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Cablegate: Most Welcome in Syria

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0211 0900540
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 300540Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4779

UNCLAS DAMASCUS 000211

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/PPD, NEA/ELA, NEA/PI, ECA/A/E/NEA, ECA/PE,
ECA/P/A, IIP/NEA-SCA

SENSITIVE, SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO KMPI PREL OEXC OIIP SCUL SY XF

SUBJECT: MOST WELCOME IN SYRIA

REF: 07 DAMASCUS 1131

1. [SBU] SUMMARY: PAO and CAO embarked on a three-day trip to Hama,
Homs, and Lattakia, March 3-5. All three cities are in the
central/coastal region of Syria. A varied array of Syrians from all
ethnic and religious backgrounds -- Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Christian
-- welcomed them with open arms, in spite of the backdrop of events
in Gaza and U.S. military ships off the coast of Syria. Contacts
included English teachers, USG program alumni, writers, students,
university professors, and even a Dean at Al-Ba'ath University in
Homs. Ignoring an edict from the Ministry of Higher Education
forbidding direct contacts with the American Cultural Center and
other foreign entities (reftel), officials from the music education
faculty displayed an eagerness for cooperation with the Center. END
SUMMARY.

---------------------
Youth Alumni the Key
---------------------

2. [SBU] PD Officers' experiences in Homs and Lattakia highlighted
the importance of alumni contacts, especially with youth alumni. In
Homs, an informal meeting with a PLUS alumnus currently teaching at
the music education faculty at Al-Ba'ath University serendipitously
transformed into the first visit by the PAO and CAO to a Syrian
university campus, a meeting with the Dean of the department, and a
request from the University for cooperation with the American
Cultural Center. The officers' mention of the impending visit of an
American jazz performer in May generated great excitement. The Dean
brushed aside concerns about a ban by the Ministry of Higher
Education on contact with the American Cultural Center. The music
education department at Al-Ba'ath University is well-equipped,
well-designed, and bustling with activity.

3. [SBU] In Lattakia, the officers visited an English language
center opened by a recent Fulbright MA alumnus, which caters to an
under-served, non-elite audience. A meeting with a MEPI Summer
Institute alumnus who teaches at Tishreen University and at a
private English language institute gave the officers further insight
into the state of English education in Lattakia.

------------------
Thirst for English
------------------

4. [SBU] Both Homs and Lattakia boast a multitude of private
foreign language centers, which compete fiercely for students and
reputation. PD officers met with directors and owners of such
institutes and spoke with them about opportunities for cooperation
and resources available to aid English teaching, including English
language fellows, exchange programs, and information resources.
These centers enroll from a few hundred to a few thousand students,
many of them university students looking to improve their English.
They are an excellent conduit for outreach to university students in
an environment where our normal channels of engagement with
universities are blocked.

5. [SBU] COMMENT: The PAO and CAO's experience shows that
successful in-country travel is still possible despite the security
services' active efforts to subvert it. All the individuals with
whom the officers met expressed enthusiasm for cooperation, and all
stressed the importance of connecting Americans and Syrians at the
educational and cultural levels despite current political tensions.
PD Damascus plans to capitalize upon this fertile environment with
more in-country travel, cultural outreach (musicians, artists,
writers), a continued strong program of English language teaching
and training, and frequent contact with program alumni, especially
youth. END COMMENT.

CORBIN

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