Syrian In California Takes Heat For Ties To Regime Calls for regime change in Syria are making their way from Damascus to Southern California. Dr. Hazem Chehabi, the Syrian Consul General in California has close ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad and is a major donor to the University of California, Irvine. Syrian-American protesters are up in arms, calling on him to distance himself from the Syrian regime.
NPR logo

Syrian In California Takes Heat For Ties To Regime

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/138915997/138915972" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Syrian In California Takes Heat For Ties To Regime

Syrian In California Takes Heat For Ties To Regime

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/138915997/138915972" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.