University of Arkansas Professor Leads Syrian Opposition's US Offices

by Jeannie Nuss, The Associated Press  on Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013 7:31 am  

In 1986, he married Syrian-born writer Mohja Kahf. Nearly a decade later, Kahf got a job teaching literature at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a college town tucked in the Ozark Mountains about 200 miles northwest of Little Rock.

For the first few years, Ghadbian worked for a government think tank in the United Arab Emirates, with his wife coming to visit for summers and breaks, before he landed a job at the University of Arkansas.

Colleagues say Ghadbian's time in Arkansas - where he is currently on leave from the university - prepared him for his role with the Syrian opposition coalition.

"I know a lot of people who've only spent time in the Washington corridor or on the East Coast, Chicago, places like that, and when we talk about middle America - red, white and blue states - they don't really have their feet on the ground in that respect," said Joel Gordon, who directs University of Arkansas' Middle East studies center. "Najib is someone who strikes me as being well-rooted at this point, well-spoken, thoughtful, kind of a natural-born diplomat."

Over the years, Ghadbian's knowledge of the Arab world has proved an asset to the university. His classes filled up as he developed a reputation as a charismatic teacher who knows Middle East politics inside and out.

"He was one of the main reasons why I decided to apply for my graduate degree at the University of Arkansas, just knowing that I could work with him," said Laila Taraghi, a former student who now lives in Olympia, Wash.

Ghadbian has long been a voice in the media, calling for democracy and weighing in on the political scene in the Middle East, so he doesn't see a conflict between his roles as activist and academic. Neither do most university officials, though Gordon said he thinks Ghadbian needs to be more careful in his current position.

"He's a university professor, but he's not acting in a university capacity," Gordon said.

Ghadbian seems reluctant to predict what will happen in Syria now, but he emphasizes the importance of establishing an interim government.

"The whole idea of forming the interim government is to be able to control the FSA, the Free Syrian Army, under one command and structure," Ghadbian said. "By so doing, we believe we could isolate and marginalize the extremist forces, which many of the Friends of Syria are concerned about and we are concerned about."

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