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February 8, 2012: News, Research and Events from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Baker Institute Update: Spring break in Qatar; Syria in crisis
Spring break in Qatar

Spring break is just around the corner. For 12 Rice University students selected by the Baker Institute's Public Diplomacy & Global Policymaking Program, that means packing for a 8,135-mile trip to Qatar, where they will attend a student conference in the capital city of Doha.

The Feb. 24-March 2 conference, sponsored by the Qatar Foundation, is designed to give real-world policy experience to students, the next generation of leaders. During a series of roundtable sessions, Rice students and their counterparts from Education City — a 2,400-acre complex of universities and world-class research facilities on the outskirts of Doha — will discuss topics ranging from religion and science to democracy and culture. Each session will be moderated by students from Rice or Qatar.

"By having open discussions about major issues with students from another culture, we are making ties that will help our generation build better relations in the future," said sophomore Rohini Sigireddi, a chemistry and policy studies major at Rice.  

To prepare for the conference, the Rice participants are taking a three-hour course taught by program directors Kirstin Matthews, the Baker Institute's fellow in science and technology policy (pictured with students above, right), and Christene Kimmel (pictured above, left), the institute's director of development. Both will accompany the students to Qatar.

The class, a survey of Qatari history, religion and culture, is designed to enhance and give context to the students' Doha experience. After their return, the participants will spend the balance of the semester writing a group report on the conference.

"Students selected to attend the conference did not necessarily know a lot about the Middle East going in," said Matthews. "We hope they come out of the experience with a very good understanding of the similarities between Qatar and the United States and a healthy respect for the differences." 

Qatar is a peninsula of stability in the region, and its wealth supports an array of challenging educational and diplomatic initiatives. "Some of the aspects we considered in selecting Qatar for the conference were the country's efforts to develop into a leading knowledge-based economy and Sheikha Moza and the Amir's dedication to building Education City," Kimmel said. 

For freshman Iman Kassir, the class on Qatar and the student colloquium offer "a starting point to try to eventually figure out how to improve relations between the U.S. and the Middle East, and how to help Americans understand more about this culture."

"The beginning of the end" in Syria?

The situation in Syria remains volatile, with violence against civilians escalating. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has increased its attacks on internal dissidents amid reports of hundreds of new deaths in the past week. Meanwhile, the U.N. and other international powers remain unable to agree on what, if any, intervention is appropriate.

Baker Institute founding director Edward P. Djerejian, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and to Syria, is providing commentary and analysis to the news media as events unfold.  

On Tuesday, Djerejian discussed the turmoil in Syria on the NPR program "On Point." While no outside power will be able to dictate the course of events inside the country, Djerejian said, it is important for major powers "to do everything possible immediately to try to stop the killing because we are on the cusp of a major humanitarian disaster in Syria and, secondly, to engage in whatever effective ways we can to promote a political transition in Syria. There is no doubt in my mind that this regime is finished. It has lost its legitimacy totally." 

The Syrian government still has adherents and has been able to control the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, he added. But "when the streets in Aleppo and Damascus begin to move ... that is truly the beginning of the end."

This week Djerejian also wrote an op-ed for that examines al-Assad's missed opportunity to reform Syria. Additionally, Djerejian has discussed what's next for U.S.-Israel relations and Syria in an interview with IDC radio at the 12th Annual Herzliya Conference in Israel. Watch the video below — and visit the Baker Institute website for more news stories about the crisis in Syria and U.S. policy in the Middle East featuring Ambassador Djerejian and Baker Institute fellows and scholars.

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The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan public policy think tank located on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The institute's distinguished fellows and scholars research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.
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