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Dr. Hani Murtada, Minister of Higher Education
Dr. Mohammed Issam al-Awa, President of Damascus University

20-sep-03, early afternoon

We walk to another building on the campus of Damascus University to meet Dr. Hani Murtada, Minister of Higher Education, and Dr. Mohammed Issam al-Awa, President of Damascus University. In yesterday's governmental reorganization, Dr. Murtada was elevated from President of Damascus University to the Ministry, and Dr. al-Awa moved from the Vice-Presidency to the Presidency. The Vice-President of the University, a Roman Catholic, is also with us. All of them speak excellent English.

Dr. Murtada starts by saying that the conflicts between the Arab world and the West are not religious at the core but are purely political. He also unequivocally denounces suicide bombing, saying that the Koran forbids it on several grounds.

The University is trying now to build relationships with Universities in the U.S. Dr. Murtada visited the U.S. privately, and visited 15 U.S. schools, but was able to make a connection at only one, the University of Illinois at Chicago. [The Cultural Attaché of the U.S. Embassy of Egypt found this hard to believe; there are many exchange programs available, and her counterpart at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus is very active in this area.]

Dr. Murtada says that Syria has no problem with extremism now, citing with approval the 1980 suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. [This suppression included the massacre of 20,000 to 30,000 people in one region, many of them innocent.] Syrians don't want extremist influence, and they think that the Saudis are very weird.

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