Qatar’s new tactic is to control the world of academia

The Qatari regime, long known for its robust sponsorship of terrorism and devaluation of human rights, has employed a new tactic to exert foreign influence and evade international condemnation.

 Buildings are seen from across the water in Doha, Qatar (photo credit: REUTERS)
Buildings are seen from across the water in Doha, Qatar
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Qatari regime, long known for its robust sponsorship of terrorism and devaluation of human rights, has employed a new tactic to exert foreign influence and evade international condemnation: controlling the world of academia.
For years, Qatar’s lavish spending on foreign lobbyists – particularly in the United States, where lobbying plays an integral role in the legislative process – has constituted the bulk of the country’s attempts to wield influence in the world’s most powerful market. The small Gulf nation with not 315,000 citizens regularly doles out tens of millions on Beltway-insider lobbying firms intended to polish Qatar’s image in the eyes of lawmakers and the American populace. In 2017, Qatar spent $16.3 million on Washington lobbyists.
Qatar’s relentless US lobbying offensive has yielded favorable results. Despite its staunch opposition to America’s primary allies in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates), regular rhetorical support of Iran and monetary funding of elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, al-Qaeda and ISIS, Qatar has nonetheless maintained its official designation as a US ally in the region even as it upholds values in stark contrast to ours.
But recently, Qatar’s lobbying stratagem has expanded from the Hill, as the country looks to cast a much wider net with much more permanent consequences for foreign relations. Qatar now allocates billions of dollars toward the protection of its image in the American classroom, sponsoring academic curricula and major academic institutions in return for favorable coverage in these settings. Since 2012, according to the Department of Education, Qatar has spent nearly $1.5 billion on infiltrating American universities and academic discourse.
From 2011 to 2016, Qatar donated over $330m. to Georgetown University, an astronomical amount to a single university. The university has strategic value to Qatar, given Georgetown’s close proximity to the nation’s capital and regular production of diplomats and legislators through its renowned School of Foreign Service. Georgetown faculty are regularly credited as experts in the media, and stifling their ability to condemn Qatar for wrongdoing is a significant gain for the Gulf state. Per the Daily Caller News Foundation, “The vast majority of funds from Qatar were contracts, the Education Department data shows, requiring Georgetown to do something in return for the money, unlike gifts.”
Qatar has also targeted the likes of Northwestern University, disbursing over $277m. to the university from 2011 to 2016. The reason likely lies with Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism’s reputation as the top place for budding journalists and members of the press to develop and hone their abilities before entering the professional world. Instilling a pro-Qatari philosophy into the minds of the future writers who would be most likely to expose Qatar for its innumerable transgressions is a strategic play by the Gulf nation.
Both Georgetown and Northwestern have established campuses in Doha, Qatar’s capital, in partnership with the Qatar Foundation, an organization solely focused on showing the West the prosperous, “humane” side of the Qatari regime. The Qatar Foundation similarly sponsored a headquarters for the Brookings Institution in Doha for the express purpose of showcasing a “bright image of Qatar in the international media, especially the American one,” per Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The foundation also sponsors campuses of Cornell, Virginia Commonwealth University, Texas A&M, University College London and Carnegie Mellon. More than 8,000 students study annually at Qatar’s “Education City.”
Other major recipients of Qatari wealth include the University of Michigan, Harvard, Purdue, Arizona State, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All of the aforementioned universities have forged strong professional and academic connections in Qatar.
In addition to maintaining a physical presence in Qatar, certain ideals of the regime are seeping into the forefront of discourse on college campuses more than ever. The proliferation of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to bolster the Palestinian narrative has taken off at major universities, a campaign closely in step with Qatari principles. Likewise, a tolerance for antisemitic bigotry on campus is reflective of intrinsically Qatari behavior.
The serious concerns raised by foreign donations of massive amounts of wealth are apparent, yet by and large ignored by US academic institutions. The injection of capital into the United States academic setting not only endangers the independence of private research institutions, but trickles upward as graduates reach high places, directly impacting the American stance on global issues such as terrorism and Israel.
The writer specializes in Israeli and Middle Eastern affairs. He has been published in the Daily Wire, Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, Jewish News Syndicate, and more. Follow Noah on Twitter @noahaphilli