I have been a seeker of the truth since my early days. Always intrigued, always inquisitive. I often envisioned ‘what-if’ scenarios. In a very strange clairvoyant way, I always felt since my early school years that I would be successful in whatever I aspire for, a feeling that comforted and empowered me to go the extra mile in everything I do. The source of this empowerment was that I did everything I planned for with passion. Additionally, one of the things that defined me is my courage and grit, my ability to take calculated risks, and my willingness to dive in the deep side of life. This attribute has enabled me to change my life and, I hope, that of those around me in a positive way.
Losing my father at the age of 10 only made me more adamant to push harder and leave my imprint in life. As the Lebanese civil war started, I suddenly found myself alone in the UK at the age of 17 making life-transforming decisions on my own. While I was completing my nine-year education in the UK, spanning from high school up to my PhD, including 1½ years at IBM as a trainee engineer, many of my peers lost track. However, I persevered, guided by my decision to succeed and my focus on that goal.
Usually, knowledge and experience among other aspects lead to wisdom. However, I was blessed with an innate sense of wisdom from my early years accompanied, I believe, by the grace of God to make the right choices since my teen years. Although many of my successes are attributed to my hard work; that was not my only enabler to reach the heights I have reached. It is also qualities such as challenging myself to do better all the time, taking calculated risks, believing in my sixth sense, and being patient. These qualities have helped me to be an outstanding student from my school years where, for example, I completed my high school program in the UK in just one year instead of three, mainly because I challenged myself.
I believe that success is mostly attributed to one’s emotional intelligence and personality: ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead, rather than to technical knowledge and subject matter expertise. This has been the driving force behind my many success stories during my student life as well as professional career. For example, when I was seconded by AUB to serve as Founding President of Dhofar University (DU) in the Sultanate of Oman, I was able to mobilize an excellent AUB team which enabled DU in a record time to be the first private university in Oman to receive the initial institutional accreditation from the Omani Accreditation Council, which was administered by a British team. Accordingly, except for the two years of full-time as Minister of Education and Higher Education in Lebanon (2011 – 2013), I have had only one employer since I received my PhD, namely the American University of Beirut (AUB).
An additional attribute that facilitated my success is that I remained wise enough never to let my success get to my head or my failure get to my heart. I have learnt that people tend to forget the days they prayed for the things they have now, so I always thanked God for the blessings I have received no matter how small or large.
Moreover, earning my BSc in Communications Engineering and PhD in Computer Engineering enabled me to play a pivotal role in introducing the very successful Computer & Communications Engineering (CCE) program at AUB in 1986 which has since been one of the most successful programs at the institutional level and was cloned in many universities in Lebanon and the region. Despite all obstacles faced during as well as in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war, I managed to accumulate over 150 publications including 11 books and book chapters as well as papers in internationally refereed journals. This research record may be considered by some ordinary when compared to the record of those that have spent many years in US universities before joining AUB. However, it is a considerable achievement when compared with those that spent their entire careers at AUB with all the limitations and difficulties that AUB and Lebanon faced since the 1980’s that affected the research efforts of AUB faculty. So far, I have accumulated over 600 citations, with an h-index of 11 and an i10-index of 13. Additionally, other research engines such as “Research Gate” (RG), indicate that my publications have over 4,000 “reads” many of which are citations not captured in Google Scholar. My RG score is 23.6 (80th percentile of RG members, which includes most MSFEA faculty at AUB).
Equally relevant, if not more, to my citations record is the impact I had during my professional career, specifically at the national and regional levels, which includes the following:
- The pivotal role I played in launching the very successful CCE program at MSFEA, AUB. Since its launching in early 1986, the CCE program has been the most sought after in terms of the number of applicants.
- I played a major role in the empowerment of all CCE graduates to assume leadership positions who in turn played a pivotal role in impacting the region. The vast majority of the CCE graduates that I taught have assumed CXX (CEO, COO, CTO, CIO, etc.) positions in the region and beyond.
- When I was seconded by AUB in 2004 as President of Dhofar University (DU) in Oman, I played a critical role in the work that led to DU becoming the first private university in Oman to receive the initial phase of institutional accreditation.
- Since assuming the position of Vice President for Regional External Programs (REP) in 2006, I played a proactive role in making AUB more impactful in the region through the successful implementation of hundreds of REP projects. REP’s portfolio of annual projects increased from around 20 projects in 10 countries in 2006 to 80 projects in 20 countries during my term as VP. Needless to say, AUB – through institutional REP projects – impacted the higher education map in the GCC and the region. Furthermore, REP established or assisted over 40 universities in 15 countries.
- I was the only AUB professor and senior administrator in the history of AUB to become Minister (June 13, 2011 – February 14, 2014) of Education & Higher Education. The Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) is the largest ministry in Lebanon composed of five major directorates and offices and includes around 60,000 employees with a total of over 1.3 million students, practically affecting almost every household in the country. In fact, in addition to the many unprecedented achievements at MEHE (some for the first time in Lebanon), I was one of the rare technocrat ministers since Lebanon’s independence. My unprecedented achievements included the following: Putting an “ICT in Education” Strategic Plan, setting a new law for K-9 compulsory education and giving free textbooks, passing a law requiring compulsory community service to all high school students culminating to almost one million hours of community service per year, and making major progress in vocational education. Another major achievement is a first-time award which the Government received as the winner of the “GSMA 2014 Connected Government Award”, thanks to the efforts of the Lebanese Ministry of Telecommunications and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in “actively encouraging the innovative use of mobile technologies that deliver long-term and sustainable socio-economic benefit and wellbeing for their citizens.” Furthermore, a new higher education law was passed to replace a 40-year old one. Additionally, after almost two and half years of reform in Higher Education (HE) during my term, the 2013 World Economic Forum report gave Lebanon the following ranking in HE out of 144 countries: (i) Quality of Schools of Business ranked 13th, (ii) Quality of Education ranked 10th, and (iii) Quality of teaching Math & Science ranked 4th only preceded by Singapore, Finland, and Belgium.
As is evident, I was able to achieve many accomplishments in my life at a relatively early age. This included finishing my PhD and joining AUB as an Assistant Professor at 26. However, I could have done that at 24 if I had not chosen to enroll in a 4-year Bachelor undergraduate (Honors) program instead of the regular 3-year one, as well as completing grade 10 in the Lebanese Baccalaureate system which did not count towards my high school requirements in the UK. Furthermore, I was promoted to Professor of Computer Engineering at AUB at the age of 38 and was one of the youngest full Professors at the University. Later on, I was appointed Chairman of the largest department (Electrical & Computer Engineering) at AUB from 1998-2001. At the age of 34, I reached the prestigious Senior Member rank in IEEE, USA, with only 8% of 320,000 in this grade. At 36, I became Fellow of IEAust, with only 6.6% of its members in this grade; and Fellow of IET, UK at the age of 42, with only 6.6% of the 150,000 members holding this grade at the time and an average age of 66. It is worth noting at this point that IEEE, IET, and IEAust are the three largest and most prominent engineering institutes in the world. Furthermore, at 45 I was the youngest university president (Dhofar University) in the Sultanate of Oman and at 52, I was one of the few and youngest technocrat ministers since Lebanon’s independence.
I have been described as an entrepreneur, innovator, and an academic leader in higher education. I was fortunate to have been exposed to our regional higher educational systems from all perspectives: as a student, Professor, Department Chair, Dean, university Vice President and President, as well as Minister of Education and Higher Education. Since then, I returned to my position as Vice President at AUB and continued to aspire for more achievements and breakthroughs. For example, despite my long experience in negotiation, I successfully completed in 2017 one of the best executive education programs in the US in leadership and negotiation at Harvard Law School. Needless to say, my professional career, especially since I started my executive management roles as founding President in Oman (2004 – 2006), Vice President at AUB (2006 – 2011), Minister of Education and Higher Education (2011 – 2014), and back as Vice President at AUB (2013 – present), has allowed me to explore the world by visiting over 150 cities across more than 70 countries as shown in the following page. This was certainly a source of enrichment for me in so many ways.
I designed and implemented Lebanon’s Education Reform Strategy and Action Plan (LERSAP) set in 2011 as a form of the educational reform the curricula underwent through focusing on promoting and employing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools. The LERSAP was launched to equip teachers with the expertise and competencies adopted to bridge the disparity between the 1997 curricula guidelines, general and instructional objectives on the one hand and the curricula implementation, textbooks, and pedagogical practices on the other hand.
I trust that everything happens for a reason, not by chance or luck. Ailment, grievance, love, greatness, and sheer senselessness, all occur to test the limits of one’s soul. Without these tests, whatever they may be, life would be like a smoothly paved, straight road with few learning experiences. It would be safe and comfortable, but dull and utterly meaningless. Like many, I have had to make many difficult choices during my professional career. For example, one of the decisions I made during my term as founding president at Dhofar University in Salalah, Dhofar region, Oman, was to require that female students remove their veils (niqab نقاب) when they are inside the university campus. This triggered a wave of revolt and opposition, which put my life in danger. However, this was a test and I was adamant to instill the AUB spirit and implement my decision, not only because I believe in empowering women, but also because this will clearly identify the person sitting in the lecture or exam room. My persistence created a whole new amazing environment within the university campus, which in turn caused a ripple effect on many women working in Salalah’s city center.
On the other hand, one of my major setbacks was losing my dear mother after a six-months’ coma, only days before I was appointed as Minister during June 2011. Despite the great loss, I went on to face all the challenges that a technocrat minister would face in a holistically political government. It was this decision to succeed and of course, the prayers of my mom, that enabled me to fulfill many achievements.
Needless to say, the people you meet affect your life, and the success and downfalls you experience help to create who you become. With all the criticism you will receive and the flattery too, it is important to remember one thing: If you listen to your inner voice, you can make a difference. Listen to it, rather than to the crowd around you, and you will find the true inner meaning of your life.