BEIRUT — The American University of Beirut (AUB) denied reports by the La Voix de tout le Liban (VDL News, often confused for VDL, La Voix du Liban) website that university management decided to create scholarships "exclusively to homosexuals" and "students pursuing gender studies."
The VDL News article was widely circulated on social media.
The story was brought to new light on Tuesday when Raed Rida, the head of the Lebanese Medical-Social Gathering, a local association, called on caretaker Education Minister Abbas Halabi to clarify the situation.
In a statement relayed by the state-run National News Agency (NNA), Rida said it was unacceptable that a university in Lebanon could make scholarships conditional on such criteria. He cited a violation of Articles 9 and 10 of the Constitution, which enshrine freedom of conscience and free education while prohibiting attacks on the "dignity" of religious denominations.
Contacted by L'Orient-Le Jour, a source in AUB's Communications Office rejected the report by VDL News, describing it as "decontextualized and unfounded."
According to AUB, the allegations come from "unknown persons seeking to take advantage of AUB's notoriety."
Dialogue of the deaf
To corroborate its article on Friday, VDL News published an alleged screenshot of an excerpt of an email attributed to AUB and allegedly sent to students by the institution's management.
The email reportedly announced the call for scholarship applications and specified that "previous coursework in women and gender studies is not a prerequisite but is acknowledged in the selection process."
The excerpt did not include a clear explanation of the scholarship program in question.
VDL News concluded that "scholarships have become exclusive for sexual deviants" and that "Fadlo Khuri, president of the AUB, was promoting homosexuality in Lebanon" via a program allegedly funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In a Sept. 30 press release, AUB denied the report and explained that its US Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI)'s Tomorrow's Leaders Program focuses specifically on gender studies. This program, whose previous session ended last July, is financed by MEPI, which in turn gets its funding from USI.
AUB explains that the program "prepares tomorrow's leaders to advocate for political reforms that prioritize diversity and inclusiveness, facilitate inclusive democratic transitions and encourage women's participation in the workforce". The press release also stated that it has been "shared with the Lebanese American University (LAU) and the American University in Cairo (AUC), and to date has awarded more than 500 full academic scholarships to deserving students at AUB alone".
"AUB remains firmly committed to its principles of human rights and dignity," the statement emphasizes, concluding, "It is only through education that we can challenge misinformation and create open spaces and opportunities for the youth of Lebanon and the region."
L'Orient-Le Jour was unable to reach the VDL News website manager for a comment.
The fact remains that this is the second program financed via an American structure revolving around themes considered to be progressive to be attacked by the media in the space of a few weeks. At the end of September, the American NGO Hardwired - founded by a member of the US Republican Party and dedicated to the fight against social injustice and discrimination worldwide - pulled the plug on a program on "inclusivity", run in collaboration with the French Ministry of Education, after coming under fire in a similar controversy.