A Columbia graduate has protested the Ivy League university’s decision to grant admission to Sheherazad el Jaafari, the 22-year-old press aide to Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, and daughter of Syria’s U.N. ambassador Bashar el Jaafari, according to a report in The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
Haya Dweidary told the newspaper that she voiced her concerns about Jaafari to the admissions officers who ignored her warnings months ago and then learned of her admission through the press.
“For me, her getting admitted is very personal, because the School of Public and International Affairs (SIPA) is one of my few support networks where I feel that, you know, ‘We’re with you in this fight for democracy,’” she told the paper.
The 27-year-old and the only Syrian in this year’s graduating class said: “I told them they should not let the girl in. She is horrible and supporting the regime … I was sure she wasn’t going to be admitted because of her strong affiliation with the government and all the human-rights violations. It was completely shocking that she was admitted.”
Jaafari was reportedly granted admission to Columbia University on the recommendation of veteran U.S. broadcaster Barbara Walters.
Walters released a statement last week, expressing her “regret” for her role in Jaafari’s placement at Columbia.
Columbia confirmed that Jaafari would be starting at SIPA this September, but denied that her application had succeeded as a result of any influence.
“Ms. Jaafari was admitted to SIPA for the fall 2012 semester based solely on the submitted application materials,” said Jesse Gale, the dean of external relations, adding that the school would not comment further on individual applications which were “confidential.”
Dweidary, however, accuses Jaafari of aiding in the misinformation campaign against the violence taking place in Syria.
She told the Daily Beast that one of her friends, Bassel Shehade, a Fulbright film student, was killed in Homs in May while shooting a documentary about the uprising.
She said that more than 40 of her friends have been imprisoned under Assad’s regime in the last 15 months.
“I’ve been familiar with the kind of work she (Jaafari) does for the government and the fact [is] that she’s a supporter of the regime to this moment,” she said.
Dweidary said she worked day and night to get into Columbia and Jaafari’s admission to Columbia paints a frustrating but familiar picture of life for the well-connected in Syria.
“This was a great achievement for me, to make it here … [But] growing up in Syria, my whole life was about [seeing] privileged people getting access to everything.”
Dweidary thought about her friends who are vainly trying to pay admission fees to American universities but have been thwarted by the sanctions. “And then to see a girl like her, not even one percent affected by anything, and she’s here in New York, living a normal life.”
Of privilege and power
In leaked emails belonging to President Assad and members of his inner circle, obtained and independently verified by Al Arabiya in March, Jaafari appeared to be one of the closest advisers to Assad and was at his side as Syrian troops stepped up their onslaught on protesters.
In one of the emails from Jaafari to Assad, she referred to herself as the “Public Relations and International Communication Manager” of the Syrian presidency, also asking Assad to grant her powers that will enable her to impose her decisions in the palace.
In another instance, Jaafari described her time in Damascus to a friend as “a challenging experience but it’s good for my CV and that’s all I care about now,” she wrote.
The embarrassing leak seemingly ended her career in Damascus and soon after she returned to New York, where her father works.