Italy to bridge Arab divide

June 1, 2001

Philosophy lecturer Armando Plebe dreamed of a higher education bridge across the Mediterranean to promote understanding, cultural enrichment and trade between Europe and the Arab world. The dream has now been realised with the foundation of an Italo-Arab university based in Palermo, Sicily, of which Professor Plebe is the first rector.

"Developing relations between Italy and the Arab world demand young people who are bilingual and expert in the workings of public institutions in both areas," Professor Plebe said.

"There is an immediate need to train graduates in economics, law or sociology from Italy, Tunisia, Syria and Egypt so that they can be of service to Italo-Arab relations," he added.

But Professor Plebe also sees the university as a "broadly cultural bridge across the Mediterranean, an antidote to the ageing of European culture and a means of breaking down the barrier of European suspicion towards the Arab world produced by Islamic fundamentalism".

The university, the Libera Universita Italo-Araba, is the first project of its kind in Italy. A parallel Spanish-Arab university was recently founded in Madrid.

The LUIA is financed by the Sicilian regional authorities. Academic staff will be Arabists in various fields from Italian and Arab institutions.

The university will open in September with a half-year, postgraduate masters in Euro-Mediterranean economics. In November, a programme of degree courses will commence.

Initially, not more than 50 students will be accepted in each programme. The university will be housed in the Palazzo La Cuba, a striking example of Norman-Arab architecture.

"We want to create a centre of excellence," said Professor Plebe, who teaches history of philosophy at Palermo University.

"The Sicily region is providing 20 substantial scholarships, and we hope that the universities of Damascus, Tunis and Cairo will also contribute.

"The masters course will be taught in English and French, while the degree courses, which will be in the fields of law, sociology and economics, will begin with the students studying Italian or Arabic.

"There are jobs waiting for these people. Many Arab and Italian entrepreneurs are crying out for the kind of training that we will be providing."

The LUIA is financed by the regional authorities and is guided by an academic council, but it is independent from Italy's state university system.

Professor Plebe said that official recognition would be sought immediately so that its degrees would be accepted in Italy, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia.

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