After a few months of monitoring and protesting against the Syrian government's mistreatment of its own citizens, some Southern California Syrians are turning their ire back at Newport Beach radiologist and philanthropist Dr. Hazem Chehabi and his close ties to UC Irvine and Bashar Assad's brutal regime.
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Student groups, Syrian Rising Generation Movement and the Syrian Emergency Task Force-Greater LA are joining forces to protest Saturday night's annual Medal Awards ceremony organized by the UCI Foundation that Chehabi chairs, according to an email from the task force.
Why pick on a generous donor and booster of a public university? Because Chehabi also serves as the honorary consul general for what the activists call "the murderous dictatorship of Bashar Assad of Syria."
The task force previously protested against Chehabi this year on campus, at the Newport Beach consular and in front of his private medical practice. Members are particularly offended that Chehabi has the support of the foundation and the university administration. Organizer Ammar Kahf claimed his group was promised a meeting with the UCI vice chancellor at a June protest on campus, something a university spokesman later denied. See:
On Wednesday, a new petition with more than 1,000 signatures was submitted to the chancellor's office requesting Chehabi's removal from the foundation "because of his attachment and representation of the Syrian regime that killed over 4,000 peaceful protesters and injured over 10,000, tortured over 10,000 since March 15. We call upon all people of conscience to protest UCI's appointment of a regime representative to its board of trustees."
"It is immoral, hypocritical and unacceptable for a prestigious academic institution such as UCI which teaches about democracy and freedom to accept being represented by Dr. Chehabi who also chooses to officially represent a brutal dictatorship that engages in the killing of its own people," Kahf explains in the email. "It is contradictory to UCI's mission and values to accept on its board an official representative of a foreign government engaging in crimes against humanity."
Chehabi previously told the Weekly he shares the protesters' revulsion over the violence in their homeland and that his critics have a right to exercise their free speech rights in this country.
Chancellor Michael Drake issued a statement in July condemning the Syrian regime's violence against unarmed citizens. As for Chehabi, Drake said the university "appreciates" the physician's generosity toward UCI and its students over the years and supports Chehabi and the broader world's quest for "a peaceful and just resolution" to the turmoil in Syria.