By Dalia Al Nimr | This story appeared in the July 2017 edition of AUC Today.
Born in 1946 in Ramleh/Jaffa on the Mediterranean shores of Palestine, Souhail El Farouki ’68 immigrated to Egypt in 1948, when the Arab-Israeli war broke out. In 1963, he graduated from Victoria College in Alexandria, then moved to the United Kingdom to complete his A-levels. For El Farouki, things in life did not come easy.
“Having been forced to leave my homeland in Palestine, I can relate to the refugee crisis plaguing our world today,” reflected El Farouki. “When I went to the UK, I worked there during my holidays — as a farmer; as a wheelbarrow porter transporting luggage and cargo at Folkestone Harbour Railway Station; and as a kitchen helper in restaurants. Being exposed to all these different types of jobs motivated me to do well in my studies.”
Following in the footsteps of his father, Ghaleb El Farouki ’33, Souhail El Farouki attended AUC, where he met his life partner Abla Leheta ’69, who is originally from Port Said.
“I still remember the year — 1964,” recalled El Farouki. “We were on a freshman trip to Al Qanater Al Khayria. My camera ran out of film, but I pretended to take pictures of the scenic environment whereas my focus was to talk to Abla. When she asked me later about the photos, I never lied; I admitted that I had run out of film. There was and continues to be a lot of mutual respect between us.”
For both El Farouki and Leheta, their University years were all about hard work and perseverance. With the close-down of her father’s business in Port Said and Suez, Leheta found herself obliged to work as a part-timer at AUC’s mail office and at an airline travel office to partially help support herself and finish her studies. Similarly, El Farouki overloaded himself with credit hours and took summer classes to graduate quickly in order to join the workforce and help his father. “AUC instilled in us the motivation and desire to work hard, make our lives worthwhile and be the least burden on our families,” said El Farouki.
“AUC inspired us and opened our eyes to the fact that there are no privileges except through hard work and knowledge acquisition, whether you own a Ferrari or commute using a second-class bus ticket, whether you dine at posh restaurants or eat foul and ta’meya, whether you wear the same or different clothes every day. All students are equal at AUC, independent of background, social class or status. AUC gave us a different outlook on life and taught us not to be distracted by petty issues.”
AUC was a home away from home for both El Farouki and Leheta. Not only did their siblings and relatives join AUC, but the University carried special memories for both of them: from Am Abdou who greeted them every day at the University gate to their favorite campus spots such as the cafeteria, Ewart and Oriental halls, the library and hostel to entertaining activities such as theatre performances, sports games and social events.
Even the “demanding professors, the tough graders,” whom El Farouki and Leheta described as their favorite because they learned the most from them, were an unforgettable part of AUC. And of course, there are the extracurricular activities, which were not only fun, but a fertile learning ground outside of the classroom. These included El Farouki serving as a sports manager for the freshman class and as a social manager for sophomores, and running for the position of head of the AUC student body. Leheta was also chosen as one of the finalists in the Miss AUC competition. “Each of these activities taught us something new,” said El Farouki. On one occasion, during an AUC trip to the American University of Beirut, their travel was partially funded by carrying items with them that were later sold in Lebanon.
After graduation, armed with their degrees — a bachelor’s in chemistry for El Farouki and a bachelor’s in economics and political science for Leheta — the two alumni were ready to venture into the real world. “AUC prepared us for the real world and equipped us with an eagerness to learn, which gave us the courage to get married and apply for graduate studies abroad,” El Farouki noted.
Soon enough, El Farouki received an assistantship to pursue graduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he received his PhD in chemistry in 1976. Leheta worked as a full-time librarian at the same university until she acquired her master’s in educational administration. “We lived in low-income housing and used Salvation Army furniture,” El Farouki said. “I used to hitchhike to the university until we were able to buy a second-hand car. I distinctly remember receiving a Teaching Assistant Award — a $25 check — in 1975 and taking my wife and young daughter, Roba, to a pizza parlor where I used to work for extra money.”
After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the married couple moved to Saudi Arabia, where El Farouki joined the Juffali family business. The group’s managing partner, the late Sheikh Ahmed Juffali, husband of the renowned philanthropist and AUC Advisory Trustee Suad Al-Husseini Juffali, had plans to add Dow Chemical Company to the organization’s diverse business activities. El Farouki was offered a job as a salesman to introduce Dow Chemical products into the market. Over the next four decades, El Farouki helped develop the Juffali chemical business into one of the largest, most diversified private sector chemical operations in the region. His achievements were cited in numerous publications, such as Growth Company: Dow Chemical’s First Century and the late Ahmed Juffali’s biography, Ahmed Juffali: A Life in Business.
Both El-Farouki and Leheta actively give back to their communities, be it contributing to local and regional charitable organizations, serving on the boards of trustees of local international schools, and developing a passion for the culinary arts by heading the International Chaîne Des Rôtisseurs Jeddah Chapter and the Gourmet Club Saudi Chapter
Although El Farouki recently left the Juffali group, he is still active in developing his family’s coffee and roasted nuts wholesale and retail business and building a personal chemicals platform in Jordan.
Throughout their life journey, El Farouki and Leheta were keen to pass on a valuable lesson to their three children and nine grandchildren. “We have tried to implant in them the importance of working hard — daily and over a period of many long years — and contributing to others,” said El Farouki. “All our children have been encouraged to have part-time jobs while studying at university. Even our grandchildren are active in fundraising, charity calls and serving in refugee camps. It is through both hard work and contributions to others that people, looking back, can appreciate and value all they have achieved.”
Recognizing their accomplishments, AUC presented El Farouki with a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999 and Leheta with a Distinguished Alumni Volunteer Award in 2004. Becoming forever a part of the New Cairo campus, the married couple named the Abla Leheta ’69 and Souhail El-Taji El-Farouki ’68 Courtyard.
“When we look back at our beautiful journey, we are grateful for what we have achieved,” said El Farouki. “AUC was a stepping stone for us and helped us get to where we are now. We hope today’s students who pass through this courtyard will have an even better journey than ours.”
He added, “Giving to AUC was also part of my father’s legacy, when he established the Ghaleb El Farouki ’33 Endowed Scholarship in 1985 to support Palestinian students. I am very touched by the notes I receive from the scholarship recipients and want to do more for this University. AUC has a great snowball effect: It teaches us to excel in everything we do, and employers look specifically for AUC graduates because they have proven themselves in the job market. Then these employers, many of them big corporations, give back to AUC because of their gratefulness to it for producing such fine graduates.”
To these fine graduates, El Farouki and Leheta advise: “Life is short. Live every moment. Work hard. Stay in touch with your classmates. Treat people with kindness, modesty and respect, no matter how much knowledge you have. This is the secret recipe for success.”