Syrian In California Takes Heat For Ties To Regime
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
NPR's Amy Walters reports.
AMY WALTERS: Unidentified Group: Down, down with Bashar.
WALTERS: Ammar Kahf, the rally organizer, says he's working with protesters in Syria to get Dr. Chehabi to resign from his position as consul.
AMMAR KAHF: We feel that any person with even remote connection with the regime, people being killed, they should say I'm not going to be associated with this brutal regime.
WALTERS: Dr. Chehabi is one of three honorary consuls in the U.S., but he's taking much of the heat for two reasons: his close ties to Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, and his sizable donations to the University of California, Irvine.
NOOR HASHEM: We have to question where our money is coming from and whether it's worth it.
WALTERS: Noor Hashem has family in Syria, and she's a UC graduate. University records show Dr. Chehabi gave more than $1 million to the UCI Foundation, and he has close to half a million more pledged. Hashem also insists Chehabi distance himself from the Assad regime.
HASHEM: And if not, then I would ask the UC Regents to really consider whether this is someone they want to stand behind, considering his ties to a regime that's basically massacring people.
WALTERS: Facing the Pacific Ocean in his second-floor office, Chehabi appears to be realizing the American dream. Over his right shoulder is a picture of his wife and sons here in Orange County. Above his left shoulder, a picture of his parents from Syria.
JOSH LANDIS: His father is the contentious person.
WALTERS: In 1982, the Syrian military flattened huge sections of the northern city of Hama, killing more than 10,000 people. Landis says Dr. Chehabi's father, General Hikmat Shihabi, was in command.
LANDIS: His father was the chief of staff of the Syrian Army under Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad, for decades.
WALTERS: Unidentified Man: (Chanting in foreign language)
WALTERS: Ammar Kahf continues to lead protests. He says Chehabi's concern is not enough.
KAHF: This is not a time for silent, private meetings. This is a time for action.
WALTERS: Amy Walters, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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