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  Your Excellency Dr. Hiyam Saqr,

  Allow me to start my letter by repeating my sentiment of gratitude to your  distinguished University for bestowing upon me a Doctorate Degree Honoris Causa in Humane Letters. In addition, I would like to thank you and other members of your staff that I had the honour to meet, for the degree of attention that I received during this event.

  At the same time I would like to comment on certain aspects of the speech that you made at the graduation ceremony in front of the new graduating class. I am taking this liberty because I am aware of your tolerant nature and your well deserved fame as a person and educator that harbours a deep rooted conviction of the power of intellectual honesty.

  I noticed that the main focus of your speech was on the role of the Phoenicians in enriching human civilization. That is a role we are all rightly proud of. But I wish that you had also included some related facts. One of these, for example, is that the Phoenicians were descendants of the Canaanites, as most researchers and historians agree. The Canaanites in turn are the descendants of the Amorite Arabs, who dwelled north of the Arabian Peninsula before migrating to northern Syria and later moving south to the borders of Sinai.

  Of course, there are tens of Arab and foreign references that support this fact. However, I prefer to quote the famous Lebanese traveler Amin Al Rihani, who wrote in his book ‘Kings Of The Arabs’:  “Some historians say that the Gulf of Persia is the cradle of civilization, and even the cradle of the human race. The old inhabitants of its islands were the first ever to use sails in conquering the seas. They excelled at the art of navigation, and formed the link between the East and the West. Others said that Phoenicians descend from this Arab homeland. Old Egyptian tablets mentioned the Pount, which is the name of the Phoenicians before they settled in Syria. There is a strong possibility that they descend from an Arab origin. Old legends say that they emigrated from areas on the Persian Gulf to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea”.

  In your speech, you stated that the Phoenicians were the people who gave the alphabet to the world. Beyond any doubt, this was the accepted fact until the third decade of the last century, when French archeologists uncovered the old city of Ugarit near Aleppo in Syria. There, they found tablets carrying cuneiform writings that go back to an era between the beginning and the middle of the second millennium before Christ, which indicate that they were written several hundred years prior to the Phoenicians use of the alphabet. Half a century later, Archeologists discovered the site of Ebla, near Ugarit. Again they found inscriptions that date to the early third millennium BC. Recently, tablets were unearthed in Egypt, and found to be inscribed with cuneiform that is thought to be the basis of Hieroglyphics.

  In this regard, I would like to point out to a piece of news carried by the Lebanese Daily Al Hayat on 31/10/2004. It said:  “The Museum of fine arts in the French city of Lyon hosted last week an exhibition on the history of the Ugarit Kingdom and culture titled “Le royaume d'Ougarit aux origines de l'alphabet”. The paper quoted the famous archeologist Philip Bourdorubi as saying that this exhibition is important because it is the first one ever dedicated to Ugarit. He noted that “the inscriptions found in Ugarit represent the birth of the Alphabet”, and added that the whole world showed interest in the heritage of Ugarit. The paper also quoted the Museum Curator as saying that Ugarit gains part of its importance from its links with Iraq, Egypt and Cyprus, and that the inscriptions found there are the origins of the Alphabet.

  We are as proud as you are of the master scientists and writers that the Phoenicians gave to the world. However, I wish only that you shared Amin Al Rihani’s profound human perspective where he says “I do not care whether the Arabs were; the origin or the branch. If they were the origin, welcome to their Phoenician descendants, and if they were the Branch, welcome to those descending from the Phoenician”.

  I wish you perfect health and happiness at all times, and wish the University continued its success under your wise leadership.

Khalaf Ahmed Al Habtoor


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