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School’s out: Why the West must leave Qatar’s ‘Education City’

Doha, which funds global Islamist terror, has been pouring billions into US universities – and strings are definitely attached
Posters of Texas A&M university in Education City in Doha, Qatar, Oct. 18, 2011. (AP/Osama Faisal)

Since October 7, Qatar has tried to present itself as a pivotal figure in global geopolitics, assuming a leading role in mediating negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of hostages taken by the terrorist group in the horrific attacks on southern Israel. While some have applauded Qatar’s proactive involvement on the international stage, others caution against the nefarious influence of the anti-Western and pro-jihadist regime in shaping the broader geopolitical landscape.

Amid the ongoing negotiations, with some 136 hostages still held in tunnels under Gaza six months after the start of the war, the recent decision by Texas A&M University System to close its Qatar campus by 2028 serves as a wake-up call – a recognition of the dangers lurking beneath the veneer of collaboration with the Qatar.

Over the past 20 years, Qatar has masterfully presented itself as a generous benefactor to the most esteemed international academic institutions, pouring billions into top universities such as Texas A&M, Georgetown, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, and many others. However, concealed within this seemingly virtuous academic collaboration lies a more complicated story. Qatar’s financial largesse has come with strings attached, as it seeks to exert a subtle yet pervasive influence over the intellectual property of research projects across multiple sensitive fields, as exposed in ISGAP’s recent comprehensive report on Qatar’s extensive involvement in funding, controlling, and acquiring the rights to sensitive research projects at Texas A&M University.

Education City in Doha is a testament to Qatar’s ambitious efforts to establish itself as a global hub of education and innovation. Spearheaded by the Qatar Foundation, it hosts satellite campuses of prestigious American universities such as Georgetown, Northwestern, and Cornell. It has become an attractive destination for international universities, lured by promises of substantial funding and access to state-of-the-art facilities and major research projects.

Yet there’s a troubling reality beneath the glittering Doha skyline. Qatar’s extensive involvement in funding and controlling research projects at Education City, as ISGAP’s November 2023 report finds, poses a potentially significant threat to academic integrity.

For decades, Qatar has cultivated a carefully crafted image. On the one hand, it presents itself as a glistening beacon of modernity, a global hub of finance, education, and culture and an ally of the United States and the West. On the other, it harbours a deep network of ties to the world’s most notorious terrorist and Islamist groups wielding its vast wealth to fuel their expansion and advance its own geopolitical ambitions. This duplicity cannot be tolerated any longer, especially when it comes to Qatar’s access to sensitive technologies, as in the case of Texas A&M – access that could pose a potential danger to America’s national security.

Qatar’s connections with notorious terrorist organizations, including the Taliban and Hamas, are no secret. The emirate provides sanctuary to exiled Hamas leaders and is a funder and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamist network of which Hamas is a part and which is based on an ideology that calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews globally.  Concerns also persist about Qatar’s ties to Al-Qaeda, with accusations of private Qatari citizens channeling funds to extremist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda. In 2017, moderate GCC countries blockaded Qatar, aiming to curb its negative regional influence.

Yet, despite these associations and proven dissemination of extremist Islamist ideology around the world, Qatar has become a significant financial contributor to a vast range of American academic institutions. In recent years the tiny nation has emerged as the largest foreign donor to US universities. According to a 2023 study from the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy mapped nearly one trillion dollars in assets, while a study by the National Association of Scholars, between 2001 and 2021, Qatar donated a whopping $4.7 billion to US colleges.

The relationship Qatar has developed with Texas A&M over the past 20 years embodies both the Qatari regime’s aspirations for its investment in US academia and the potential dangers they hold for Western interests.

According to research by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), which I direct, in return for more than a billion dollars in funding, Qatar has acquired full ownership of over 500 research projects at Texas A&M alone, some of which are in sensitive research fields. A confidential business-academic agreement with Texas A&M also showed how Qatar has been granted unprecedented control over academic research and standards, faculty, students, curriculum, and budgets at the university.

Following these findings, and amid what they called “heightened instability” in the Middle East, the Texas A&M Board of Regents made the bold decision to completely close down the Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ).

The decision marks a pivotal moment in the fight to uphold US academic integrity and national security. It is an important statement affirming that there is no place in US academia for billions of dollars coming from a state that supports and funds terror and promotes and spreads the extremist Islamist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. It sends the message that academic institutions must not compromise their principles for financial gain. Instead, they must prioritize academic freedom, integrity, and national security above all else.

Furthermore, Texas A&M’s action sets a clear precedent for other universities with campuses in Qatar’s Education City. It must serve as a wake-up call to the other universities operating there – Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Cornell Medicine, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern. They must reassess their partnerships with Qatar and consider the implications for academic freedom of their continued presence in Doha. As the Texas A&M Board of Regents said in a statement, the move underscores the university’s commitment to its core mission of advancing education and research primarily within the United States.

Turning a blind eye to Qatar’s duplicity is no longer an option. The stakes are too high, the potential consequences too dire. Our centers of higher education must not let the short-sighted pursuit of funding blind them to the clear and present danger that lurks beneath the gilded surface of Qatar’s global ambitions.

About the Author
Dr. Charles Asher Small, is the founding Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (www.isgap.org). He is the author of a five volume book entitled “Global Antisemitism: A Crisis of Modernity. (ISGAP Publications and Brill Press). He is currently a research scholar at St. Antony's College, Oxford and the Dayan Center for Middle East and African Studies.
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