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University denies Syrian links
8:00am Monday 9th July 2012 in News
A LEADING North-East university yesterday denied having “formal or active links” with the under-fire government in Syria.
The denial was issued after it emerged that an aide to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is to be awarded a doctorate by Durham University.
Lamis Omar, who has been pictured in the presence of the dictator, is reported to have been studying for a PhD in Durham City, and is to receive the doctorate in September, having completed a thesis on Shakespeare.
Emails revealed via the controversial Wikileaks website suggested Ms Omar, said to be in her mid-30s, has worked in the Syrian leader’s Ministry of Presidential Affairs for the past four years.
More than 800 emails are said to have been exchanged between the pair, many described as light-hearted and others poetic, despite the alleged atrocities and bloodshed in Assad’s Middle-Eastern dictatorship over the past 12 months.
Weekend reports also suggest a close friendship between the pair, with affectionate references and a regular flow of gifts to the special aide.
Assad, said to be described in the emails as her course sponsor, has been married to British-born wife Asma for 12 years.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon said, in the wake of the reports, “ethical questions”
should be asked of Durham University as to why it is providing an education to a member of the Assad regime.
He also called on the university to consider withdrawing the PhD. Neither Ms Omar or the Assad regime has commented on the issue.
But Durham University denied that it has any connection to the government in Syria and said students from around the world are accepted solely on merit.
“All staff and students, whether from the UK, Afghanistan or Zambia, contribute to the international environment at our university and our commitment to the education of global citizens.
“All students are admitted on academic merit alone, and academic merit is the sole criterion for awarding a degree.
“All students, whether from the UK or other countries, pay fees appropriate for their course of study.
“Some students are selffunded and fees are paid by friends and family, while others receive bank or government loans or scholarships.
“We do not comment on the financial circumstances of individual students.”
The statement concluded: “Durham University does not have any formal or active links with the Syrian government.”