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Syrian student ban on KAUST’s new supercomputer 8, October 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Saudi Arabia.
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Saudi King Abdullah’s latest pet project, the much hyped, well funded and so far independent and autonomous King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) has been grabbing headlines throughout the world. One of their boasts was that the University would be equipped with one of the world’s fastest supercomputers, nicknamed Peregrine. Scholars from distinguished Universities such as Stanford, Oxford and Cornell, to name a few, would have access to Peregrine as partners in this endeavour.

In an odd but somehow unsurprising turn of events it transpires that, according to Arabian Business 15  Syrian students at KAUST will be denied access to Peregrine at America’s behest because of their ongoing Syrian embargo. Such a clause was apparently inserted into the IBM-KAUST memorandum of understanding (MOU) taking the decision out of the hands of the University.

However, with the recent visit of King Abdullah to Syria and gently mooted notions of some kind of Syrian-US rapprochement, lifting such a ban could be used as a simple and relatively cheap American sign of support and good will in the near future. Indeed, it is hardly as if it is a particularly effective ban that impinges in any way, shape or from on the powers that be in Damascus.

Overall, this situation is, however, only a small blip in KAUST’s otherwise impressive start. One must hope, therefore, that KAUST can, overall, resist such changes and maintain (or rather build up) its international reputation and not be dragged down by niggly but nevertheless pertinent issues restricting access, freedoms and the independence of the institution as a whole.