Syrian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Dr Sami Khiyami has become the latest Middle Eastern diplomat to visit the University of Nottingham. On the 16th of February he gave a presentation entitled, “Syria: Gateway to the Arab World”. The presentation was held at Jubilee campus, courtesy of the University of Nottingham’s Arabic Society, and was chaired by the well known co-founder of the Arabic society Hicham Yezza.

In contrast to the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the visit of Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor last November, the event took place in a sedate environment and consisted of a speech followed by an extensive Question and Answer session. The Ambassador’s speech addressed a number of issues starting with what could be described as an intriguing perspective on Syria’s role in history and the development of culture in the modern world, arguing in favour of Syria’s influence on both Arabic and European cultures. Did the practice of employing attractive waitresses in cafés originate in Syria? Impact isn’t so sure!

Moving on from this he went on to address more contemporary political issues including Israel, highlighting the two sides of this particular middle eastern conflict: on one side, Israel, and on the other, the rest of the Middle East. Describing fundamental extremists as “lunatics” with “disturbed minds”, the ambassador also reserved criticism for the George W. Bush administration. Khiyami had criticised the United States and Israel during the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, arguing that “They want a new Middle East, however not a Middle East of democracy and peace…but a Middle East of violence.”

The presentation provided a useful insight and understanding of the current Syrian situation, as well as getting another perspective on the important issue of Middle Eastern politics. While the ambassador was not entirely optimistic for the future of the region, he found some hope in the “good intentions” of the Obama administration.

Daniel Gadher

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