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14 December 2005

Saudi donates $20m to Harvard ;Money will fund Islamic studies

A Saudi Arabian prince who is one of the world's richest people is giving $20 million to Harvard to establish a university-wide program in Islamic studies, Harvard officials said yesterday

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, whose net worth was estimated by Forbes magazine this year as $23.7 billion, is also donating $20 million to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue and understanding.

The Harvard gift, which officials said was one of the 25 largest in the university's history, will pay for four new senior professors, one of whom will hold an endowed chair named for Prince Alwaleed. It will also provide start-up funding for a project to preserve and digitize significant Islamic documents that are in Harvard's possession and make them available on the Internet.

''We are very grateful to Prince Alwaleed for his generous gift to Harvard," university president Lawrence H. Summers said in a statement announcing the gift. ''This program will enable us to recruit additional faculty of the highest caliber, adding to our strong team of professors who are focusing on this important area of scholarship."

In the statement, Alwaleed said ''I am pleased to support Islamic studies at Harvard, and I hope that this program will enable generations of students and scholars to gain a thorough understanding of Islam and its role both in the past and in today's world. Bridging the understanding between East and West is important for peace and tolerance."

The gift to Georgetown will be used to expand its existing Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. In addition to his donations to American universities for Islamic studies, Alwaleed is backing the development of American studies centers at universities in Cairo and Beirut.

Alwaleed, who is in his late 40s, is a professional investor who has made billions buying into blue-chip companies while they were in trouble and their stock prices were depressed. A $590 million purchase of Citicorp stock in 1991, now valued at around $10 billion, is the cornerstone of his fortune.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, in which 15 of the 19 attackers were Saudis, Alwaleed tried to donate $10 million to the Twin Towers Fund for victims. Former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani rejected the gift because of an accompanying press release in which Alwaleed urged the United States to reexamine its Middle East policies ''and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."

Gifts to Harvard from wealthy Arabs also have been controversial in the post-9/11 environment.

Donations during the 1990s to the schools of law and design from relatives of Osama bin Laden were criticized after 9/11. But the money had no known ties to bin Laden or terrorism, and Harvard kept the gifts. Last year, Harvard Divinity School returned a $2.5 million gift from the president of the United Arab Emirates because of the president's ties to an Arab League think tank with alleged anti-American and anti-Jewish leanings.Continued...

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