Texas A&M TAMUQ closure 'caught Qatar Foundation by surprise' following pro-Israel disinformation campaign

Texas A&M TAMUQ closure 'caught Qatar Foundation by surprise' following pro-Israel disinformation campaign
Exclusive: Qatar Foundation says they had been confident until the end their relationship with Texas A&M University was moving 'in a very positive direction'
4 min read
14 February, 2024
The Qatar Foundation oversees Qatar's Education City which hosts several international campuses [Getty]

The Qatar Foundation was told that there were 'concerns' regarding its partnership with a top American university before its sudden announcement that it would close its Qatar branch, although it did not expect it to lead to a termination of its 20-year partnership.

Last week, Texas A&M University's Board of Regents voted to wind down the Qatar branch over a four-year period, citing heightened instability in the Middle East.

But the university's partner the Qatar Foundation, a state-financed non-profit that works with several international universities, said the decision of the American university to close its Qatar branch was spurred by a 'disinformation campaign' against the foundation.

Hend Zainal, Executive Director of Strategy, Management and Partnerships at the Qatar Foundation, told The New Arab that until last week it had been confident their relationship with the American public university was moving "in a very positive direction".

"We just renewed [our contract] with them and they were taking the lead in Education City on certain initiatives and so it was surprising to us, and the decision was no reflection of the partnership we've had with them," Zainal said.

The American governors said in a statement last week that a review into the college’s presence in the Middle East was due to regional instability caused by the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in October.

Zainal said that the reason given by the university was 'surprising' considering the region has been in turmoil for a long time.

"[Texas A&M] joined shortly after 9/11, we endured the war in Yemen and Iraq… and that did not affect the partnership in any way. So why now?" she asked.

The branch will officially close in 2028, a decision which triggered shock across the Al-Rayyan campus and was decried by the American ambassador to Qatar Timmy Davies.

The decision followed weeks of strong denials from Texas A&M President Mark Welsh over unsubstantiated claims that the university has a nuclear research programme funded and controlled by Doha through its relationship with the Qatar Foundation.

The allegations were first made in a report from a pro-Israel policy group, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), a Washington-based non-profit academic research organisation that says it studies antisemitism.

ISGAP says it found "alarming research" related to research projects in the fields of engineering, technology, medicine, and humanities which posed a "potential national security risk to the United States".

There were even claims, promoted in Israeli media, that the university operated a nuclear engineering programme, something which was flatly denied by Welsh in January.

Qatar Foundation, which oversees Qatar’s Education City, said in a statement last week said that Texas A&M’s governors had been influenced by a "disinformation campaign".

Zainal said that the claims were "ridiculous" and that at no point has ISGAP contacted the foundation nor presented its report to them.

"I don’t think the people that put that report together were truth-seekers because if they were they would realise that whatever they were accusing us of and Texas A&M of doing is completely unfounded."

Texas A&M is considered one of the top public engineering colleges in the US and opened its Qatar campus in 2003. It is one of six American universities in Qatar's Education City, which includes Virginia Commonwealth, Weill Cornell Medicine, Carnegie Mellon, Georgetown, and Northwestern.

Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in October, academics and students at US colleges have witnessed a wave of suppression targeting pro-Palestinian sentiment and a crackdown on criticism of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Live Story

Doha has close relations with Washington which have been strengthened through higher education partnerships such as Texas A&M, and by hosting the largest US military base between Europe and Japan.

Zainal said that the past few months have seen higher education institutions targeted by a rise in campaigns by 'lobbying parties'.

She mentioned the hearings at the US Congress in December when the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology were questioned over allegations of antisemitism on campus.

"A lot of our partners have been questioned under the same campaign, [and] about their relationship with the foundation," Zainal said, referring to other American campuses in Qatar.

She added that ‘questions about the relationship with the foundation’ had come up during most board meetings in recent months.

Pro-Israel groups have long targeted the Qatari government for hosting officials from Hamas, despite Doha playing a key mediator role in US-backed ceasefire negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian group.

Zainal said that the Qatar Foundation’s partnerships with leading international universities have resulted in "tremendous achievements" for young people in Qatar and the region.

"It is very much disappointing as an educator to see that politics and that these parties are allowed to influence what happens in education, and this is a sector that we all have a responsibility to protect," she said.