Saudi Arabia Funds Politically Influential University That Promotes Pro-Muslim Agenda

Luke Rosiak | Investigative Reporter
  • Georgetown University took $20 million from a member of the Saudi royal family to fund a Muslim-Christian center.
  • The kingdom’s influence on Washington has come under scrutiny following the slaying of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • Georgetown trains future diplomats and houses experts Washington relies on.
  • Now, the center uses liberal talking points, such as comparing Muslims to DACA “Dreamers.”

The Saudi royal family funded a politically active Muslim studies program within Georgetown University, which trains future diplomats and is woven into the Washington scene from Foggy Bottom to Congress.

The school’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU) is named after the patron who donated $20 million — the second-largest gift in university history at the time, according to its website.

The CMCU houses the Bridge Initiative, which describes itself as a “research project” that highlights “the problem of Islamophobia,” and is led by Georgetown professor and CMCU founding director John Esposito. The initiative’s published works include “What’s Wrong With The ‘March Against Sharia'” and “Why We Should Ditch The Phrase ‘Moderate Muslims.’

Esposito also co-authored a post titled “Sharia: Myths vs. Realities” during Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process. The post said that “in instances where the laws in place are contrary to the objectives and values that Muslims uphold, they … can work for change through the legal processes that exist … working together with others to introduce legislation and lobby the government concerning laws or appointments of Supreme Court judges.”

Georgetown, a Jesuit Catholic university, has received $6 million since 2014 from Suad Juffali, who “is the widow of the late Sheikh Ahmed Juffali, an extremely important business tycoon” in Saudi Arabia, according to the university’s website. She is now on the advisory board of Georgetown’s Walsh School of Foreign Service’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

The Walsh School of Foreign Service, which houses the CMCU, is where many students hoping to go into diplomatic service are trained.

Its website notes that “At SFS, 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 U.S. government. Our location gives SFS the extraordinary opportunity for us to engage (and sometimes even influence) the debates that lead to real action.”

Such financial ties have come under scrutiny as Americans have grappled with U.S. elites’ historically friendly rhetoric toward Saudi Arabia and other such nations, following the slaying of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi embassy. (RELATED: Before Killing Of Journalist, Elite Universities Took $600M From Saudis)

Georgetown did not respond to questions from The Daily Caller News Foundation about the strings attached to such funds, whether they could influence curriculum, or whether the university is re-evaluating its relationship with the Saudis after the embassy killing.

Georgetown, which is situated near the Department of State and whose experts are frequently cited by groups shaping policy, has received $400 million in gifts and contracts from foreign governments and individuals since 2011, according to Department of Education data — more than any institution except Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University.

The vast majority were contracts, which require Georgetown to do something in return for the money, rather than gifts.

Foreign-Affiliated Funding of Georgetown University, 2011-2016 (Source: Department of Education)
Country Amount
QATAR $332,818,297
ENGLAND $10,967,336
FRANCE $8,397,339
CHINA $8,026,288
SAUDI ARABIA $6,000,000
HONG KONG $5,531,000
JAPAN $5,253,642
GREECE $5,000,000
THE NETHERLANDS $2,935,297
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES $2,933,320
SPAIN $2,204,495
SOUTH KOREA $2,082,926
BRAZIL $2,067,256
KUWAIT $2,000,000
GERMANY $1,390,564
SINGAPORE $938,142
INDONESIA $380,000

Former Rep. Frank Wolf asked Georgetown in 2008 if it had ever written any reports critical of Saudi Arabia since receiving the funds. Georgetown did not answer the question in a statement quoted by The Washington Post in an article on the Virginia Republican’s letter.

Shortly prior, a bipartisan congressional panel found that the “government of Saudi Arabia engages in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief,” according to The Post.

The Saudi-backed CMCU is now working to tie social justice causes with Muslim issues close to the authoritarian kingdom. The Bridge Initiative posted articles such as “On the Intersections of DACA and Islamophobia” and “Mental Illness: A Key Factor In ‘Terror.’

The CMCU teaches the “Islamophobia is Racism Syllabus,” which seeks to “challenge anti-Muslim racism and resist white supremacy.”

CMCU’s website says it “reframes ‘Islamophobia’ as ‘anti-Muslim racism.’ In so doing, the authors seek to convey the process by which Islamophobia functions as not only religious-based discrimination, but discrimination animated by racism as well. The syllabus underscores the institutionalized and structural nature of Islamophobia racism, which begets long-term and systematic inequalities, stigmatization and exclusion.”

It uses techniques designed to connect with U.S. youth culture, pushing the themes using a Twitter hashtag and talks about “resisting anti-Muslim racism” using “hip hop.”

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