Monday, March 20, 2023
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UCI’s Disgraceful Connection?

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An 18-year-old girl was captured, put in prison, tortured and eventually her family found her mutilated dead body. “Zeinab al-Hosni” is a case reported by the United Nations and only one of the 5,000 victims who were silenced by the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

Since March 15, the Syrian people have been peacefully demanding their basic human rights and were met with “an iron fist.” The United Nations has reported that Assad has gone too far in trying to silence dissent against his repressive regime and the Human Rights Council has condemned his actions to suppress the Syrian Revolution for freedom.

The torturous Syrian regime has been shooting at unarmed protesters and crossing all limits to silence dissent. As a student of conscience, I would not want to be associated with this type of regime. As a student of UC Irvine, I value integrity and empathy, which are core beliefs of this university as Chancellor Drake said in his 2011 “Fall Message to the Students.”

However, these very values are at stake because of a Syrian Diplomat under Assad’s violent regime, Dr. Hazem Chehabi, the chair of the UCI Foundation. I am appalled to think that a man who is a part of the Bashar al-Assad regime is representing me; I am beginning to doubt the University’s commitment to its values. How can our university stand for this?

Dr. Hazem Chehabi is Syria’s Honorary Consul General and pays from his pocket $70,000 every year to fund the Syrian Consulate in Newport Beach. Chehabi represents our university and simultaneously represents a man who has ordered the murder of over 5,000 innocent civilians simply because they demanded for their basic rights.

It is clear to me that any representative of Assad’s government does not hold the values of empathy and compassion, which are core to UCI, because of their continued support for the atrocities committed.

It is clear that the representatives of Assad’s regime do not hold the same values for human beings due to their continued support for a repressive regime and the constant killing of those who peacefully struggle for liberty and justice. The atrocity of murdering protestors has simply become a strategic move for this oppressive regime. Our university and our university’s representatives should honor the values we represent and any association with Assad’s regime should be cut off. Our university prides itself on being committed to values, but clearly these values were sidelined when Chehabi became the chair of the UCI Foundation.

It is an absolute disgrace to be a student at a university that is not taking a stronger stance on this issue. The world has seen other revolutions in the Middle East, and diplomats from countries such as Libya and Egypt have taken more progressive steps to demonstrate their support for the people. For example, the Egyptian diplomat and Egyptian representative for the United Nations resigned his position under Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian dictator, in support of the people and the revolution. These diplomats realized that their continuous support would fuel an unjust government. What pro-active steps is Chehabi taking?

Zeinab’s murder is the story of one victim, one family, one tragedy; but the reality is there are more than 5,000 stories like this of victims and their families. Chehabi is a representative of this university but he is tied to the story of Zeinab al-Hosni, he is tied to the story of a tortured and beaten girl because of his position in Assad’s regime.

The chair of the UCI Foundation, Dr. Hazem Chehabi is stigmatized because of his position in Assad’s brutal regime, and a vicious and cruel dictator now stigmatizes our university. What steps are we taking to erase this stigma from our university?

Erum Siddiqui is a second-year undecided/undeclared major. She can be reached at