How Qatar is paying US institutions $1.3 billion to gain ‘dubious influence’

Data from US Department of Education shows Qatar has given about $1 billion to elite US universities since 2011 for ulterior motives. (Reuters)

Qatar is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into top academic institutions in the UK and US, since the beginning of 2012 to June this year, according to a Financial Times analysis of the US education department’s Foreign Gifts and Contracts Report.

Qatar’s part represents around 15 percent of all foreign gifts and contracts over that period. Qatar pays alone $1.3 billion from the $2.2 billion provided by all Gulf countries. However, the much of the money coming from Saudi Arabia, for example, goes to student fees — Riyadh funded about 110,000 US scholarships for Saudis between 2005 and 2015.

The report quoted researchers as saying they had concerns about the impact of funding on research about the Middle East and everything that matter to the region.

Funding for clout

According to media reports, data from US Department of Education shows that Qatar has given about $1 billion to elite American universities since 2011 for ulterior motives. The noted US-based news portal ‘Daily Caller News Foundation’ fears that the funding could have implications for the ‘academic independence’ of prestigious US universities.

A Daily Caller report said that some elite universities hide information on funding from the “ultra-conservative nation of Qatar”.

It states that Doha is seeking to gain political influence in Washington by funding academic institutions like Georgetown University, “which is situated in the seat of power, near the State Department, and its experts are frequently cited by groups shaping policy”.

The article confirmed that the university has “received nearly $333 million from Qatar since 2011 — far more than any other US school has received from any foreign nation”.

The website of this university, which now has an outpost in Qatar itself, claims that at its Walsh School of Foreign Service, “you can study with former Secretaries of State” and access “connections to diplomats from just about every country, and of course, the seat of the US government.

Our location gives SFS the extraordinary opportunity for us to engage (and sometimes even influence) the debates that lead to real action.”

Hidden ‘strings’

Still, many US universities are refusing to reveal the conditions attached to the money they have received from Qatar.

For its part, the Qatar Foundation has itself filed a lawsuit against Texas attorney general on 12 October 2018 to hide information about a massive $225 million donation the country has awarded to Texas A&M University since 2011.

The article also raises concerns about the dean of Georgetown University’s Qatar campus Ahmad Dallal, who the Middle East Forum describes as a long-time and enthusiastic supporter of the “US State Department-designated terrorist group Hezbollah”.

It is also reported that university funding is only one of the multi-pronged public relations exercise launched by Qatar, which includes doling out millions to lobbyists and public relations firms in the US. 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.

The university operations by Qatar are just one prong in a massive public relations and influence push that includes millions to lobbyists and public relations firms in the US. The list of institutions bought by Qatar in whole or in part includes several well-known international bodies that used to enjoy international respect.

It has become clear lately that the Qatari deals have been reflected in the level of research carried out by these institutions, which now lacks credibility.

Qatar paid nearly $15 million in a four-year grant to create the Brookings Doha Center, according to the New York Times, which revealed that Qatar funded some research and studies’ center, led by the Institute of Research and Studies in America, the Brookings Institute. The Center organized the Doha Forum, which was marked by turning it into a platform for Iran to attack the United States and the Gulf states.

Qatar’s tactics in financing research institutions, all over the world, has led to mistrust in evaluating all bodies working on researches and studies focusing on the Gulf, irregardless to their outputs quality.

In 2017, Qatar hired Ashcroft Law Firm, cofounded by former US Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then a second law firm — McDermott, Will & Emory — three weeks later. In late August, Qatar hired a third D.C. law firm, Stonington Strategies, then a fourth, Nelson Mullins.

It also hired Avenue Strategies Global, former Trump campaign manager Corey Leandowski’s lobbying firm, according to Politico. Art Estopinan, recently hired as a partner at Avenue Strategies Global and one of the lobbyists for Qatar, was formerly Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Fla.).

Qatar has also turned to advertising firms, including the Washington, D.C.-based Audience Partners Worldwide. Also, Qatar’s communications office hired PR and lobbying firm BlueFront Strategies to create what would be the country’s most ambitious media campaign denouncing its Gulf neighbors.

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