Mitzi Perdue: Adib Sha’ar is a Syrian scholar who helps protect democracy

The civil war currently raging in Syria is 5,730 miles and seven time zones distant from Salisbury.  It’s hard to imagine that a civil war so many miles and so many time zones away is actually having an impact on our region. But nevertheless, it’s true.

The Syrian civil war has meant four new residents for Salisbury. They are, however, very special residents.  Dr. Adib Sha’ar’s research at Salisbury University will almost certainly be providing benefits for our entire country, and maybe even for the world.

Sha’ar and his family are here now because Salisbury is a safe haven for them.  Their problem was that in the city where they lived, Aleppo, the rebels make a practice of bombing the areas held by the government. The government, in turn, bombs the areas held by the rebels.

As a measure of the danger and the tragedy that the Sha’ar family has endured, not 100 days ago, Sha’ar’s brother was killed in the civil war.  All together, more than a quarter of a million individuals have been killed in Syria’s civil war.

How did it happen that the Sha’ar family was rescued from the extreme dangers of the Syrian civil war?

Part of the explanation is that Dr. Sha’ar is a world-famous engineer and cryptologist. The Institute of International Education heard of his case. The IIE knew of the grave danger he and his family were in, and part of their mission is to rescue scholars whose lives are in danger.

The IIE raised the funds to move Sha’ar and his family from Syria to this country and safety. (Full disclosure: your author does volunteer work for the Institute of International Education.)

As a result, Salisbury University now benefits from having a new rock star professor, the students benefit, and our entire region benefits from the international prestige of having a world famous scholar in our midst.

And just what are Professor Sha’ar’s research areas? He invented (in cooperation with his ex-supervisor Professor PA Davies) Prime Codes used in fiber optics communication systems. He also suggested the application of Prime Codes to radar systems, making them more immune against jamming.

All of the previously mentioned results are published in the most prestigious engineering magazines: the American IEEE and the British IEE. In the last five years Professor Sha’ar concentrated on electronic voting.

He has been able to figure out ways of ensuring that electronic voting is more tamper proof, publishing his results in the EDemocracy10 conference held in Austria. The E-Voting results are under more investigations by Professor Sha’ar.

The practical implications of this are immense.  Imagine for a moment that a bad guy wants to tamper with an election. He could adjust the computer codes for the voting machines so that randomly (and therefore undetectably), votes for candidate A could be changed to votes for Candidate B.

Sha’ar’s system can detect the difference between the original code and the falsified code. Actually, existing systems can catch tampered code 99 percent of the time, but in a close election, that’s not good enough. The system Sha’ar has is so effective that only one in ten million instances of tampering could slip through.

Sha’ar’s research has the potential of making voting throughout the world more secure. It can profoundly influence the success of democracy. And this is just part of the work he’s doing every day.

What an unthinkable tragedy it could have been, not just for Sha’ar and his family, but for humanity, if a cruel civil war in far-off Syria had taken his life.  Sha’ar is a scholar whose work can help protect one of the most basic aspects of democracy, the ability to have tamper-proof elections.

Dr. Sha’ar is contributing to his new country, but so are his wife Sawsan and their two sons. Shahm, and Mahmoud.  Sawsan is a civil engineer, and as her English improves, she hopes to use her professional skills in this country. Meanwhile she’s doing private tutoring in Arabic, and would welcome additional students.

Their sons are both A students. They’re already fluent in English and are popular members of their community. The entire family is a welcome addition to our area.

Contact Mitzi Perdue at mitziperdue.com.

 

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