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Will the Saudis New Foreign University Law Be Another Influence Op?

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A picture of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a poster at a global forum in Riyadh (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a poster at a global forum in Riyadh (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia just passed a new foreign university law. This means that foreign universities will now be able to open campuses in the kingdom.

The move is being billed in Saudi Arabia as a path to “achieve a qualitative leap in … empowerment, excellence and quality,” according to Education Minister Dr. Hamad Al-Sheikh.

“It will raise the standards of local universities. There will be much more competition, which is much needed,” education and entrepreneurship consultant Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj told Arab News.

“This competition will lead to an improvement in the quality of education. That is what we all want. It’s a very smart move.”

But not so fast.

According to The Saudi Gazette, the new foreign university law stipulates that universities working in the kingdom will work “in accordance with the general policy approved by the State,” and that the kingdom will establish a “Council for the Affairs of Universities … to contribute to achieve governance, and international advisory councils to expand the base of participation in decision-making.”

The Saudi government is a theocracy with a horrendous human rights record.  In fact, the kingdom is responsible for the worldwide spread of the puritanical, theocratic and anti-Western Salafi ideology called “Wahhabism.”

While Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) has taken steps towards reform and curtailing the Wahhabist establishment and Muslim Brotherhood within the kingdom, there is no public record of the Saudi government curtailing its previous promotion of Islamist extremism in the West — nor have they publicly detailed any effort to end its spreading of its ideology in the U.S.

The Saudi government is known to spend lavishly on various influence operations in the U.S., including within U.S. universities. Our recent report at Clarion Project details the spending by Saudi Arabia campuses.  Since 2012, the Saudis have contributed at least $649,971,586 to 63 universities in America.

To date, no American universities have announced any plans on establishing a satellite campus in the kingdom, but it’s only a matter of time before U.S. universities set up camp in their generous benefactor’s backyard.

And for the skeptics, we saw what happened in Qatar, who wooed Northwestern University into a partnership with their flagship, state-controlled, worldwide Islamist media network Al Jazeera.

Since 2012, Northwestern University has received over $340 million from Qatar, including money to set up a branch of the university in Education City just outside of Doha.

In 2013, Northwestern-Qatar (which shamelessly focuses on two majors: journalism and communications) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Al Jazeera.

 The agreement states that they will engage “in joint research and strategic studies projects, training workshops, a co-designed lecture series, internships and faculty contributions as well as journalist-exchange programs.”

The agreement makes it clear that Qatar’s objective is to use Northwestern University to carry out its influence operations on U.S. soil:

“NU-Q will conduct consultations with Al Jazeera leadership based on its faculty research interests and expertise in the American media industry, as the news network moves forward with its planning for Al Jazeera America,” the agreement states.

Education City is also the site where the Qatar Foundation (a “charity” linked to terrorism and controlled by the Qatari regime) operates a mosque which has become a stage for radical clerics, including one who took joy in the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in France, describing it as “the sequel to the comedy film of 9/11.”

It remains to be seen the effect of the Saudi’s new foreign university law and what the Saudi equivalent of “Education City” might be. But judging from the Qatar model, we need to be watching these satellite universities very carefully.

 

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Clarion EXCLUSIVE Report: Foreign Influence Ops on US Universities

 

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Alex VanNess

Alex VanNess is a research analyst for the Clarion Intelligence Network. He formerly served as a fellow at the Endowment for Middle East Truth, as director of the Middle East Peace and Security Project for the Center for Security Policy and as a staffer on Capitol Hill.

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