Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has come to the United States for a two-week visit and met with President Trump on Tuesday. Acclaimed by Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Friedman as the spirit of the Arab Spring, MBS, as he is often called, is often described as a “reformer.” Unfortunately, there is the little matter of his Yemen war. He arrived just when Bernie Sanders’s bill to end US participation in that criminal adventure is slated for a Senate vote.
I’ve seen plenty on the Internet about the horrors in Yemen, but the one that got to me most recently was an Al Jazeera video of people eating food from a garbage dump, where they are competing for food with masses of flies. This is what the Saudis and the United States have brought to Yemen.
An early November story in The New York Times was headlined “Saudi Money Fuels the Tech Industry. It’s Time to Ask Why.” It talked about all the tech companies like Uber, Lyft, and Twitter that have taken investments from the Saudi government and private Saudi businessmen allied with the government, noting that the Saudi kingdom has an “abysmal record with human rights groups.” If businesses’ ethics can be challenged, then why not US colleges that take Saudi money?
Harvard and Georgetown each received $20 million from a Saudi prince back in 2005 to foster “Islamic studies.” Georgetown used the money to fund its Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which it renamed the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Harvard has a Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi King Salman, is one of the richest men in the world and has been at the top of the Saudi power structure for years. Last November he was arrested in the so-called corruption crackdown by MBS and was only let out in January after reportedly forking over some $6 billion.
The Saudi regime’s terrible human-rights record did not prevent Harvard and Georgetown from accepting the money. When they did so, Saudi Arabia’s internal repression was just as intense as today, but its foreign military adventures were not so blatant or deadly. That has changed. In 2011 Saudi tanks were sent into Bahrain to crush that country’s “spring,” and then in 2015 the Saudis started their grisly war against Yemen. Two Connecticut colleges started major programs with the Saudi establishment after those notorious interventions.