By Giovanni Giacalone, Analyst KEDISA
On Wednesday May 27th the Italian Senate approved an agreement of mutual cooperation with Qatar on education, universities and scientific research, which among other things, foresees expert exchange and visits in all fields of education; favors academic cooperation and inter-faculty agreements as well as the co-production of publications, studies and exchange visits of professors, lecturers and researchers. The document also indicates that both parts will encourage participation in joint training courses for teachers and exchange of information.
The agreement had been initiated in April 2012 during a meeting between former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and the former Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani (who was succeeded by Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani) during his visit in Rome.
As explained by Italian analysis website “Formiche”, while the left-wing government coalition unanimously voted in favor and depicted the agreement as “extremely positive” in order to “strengthen links between Italy and Qatar and promote peace and mutual knowledge”, the right-wing opposition appeared divided.
Silvio Berlusconi’s “Forza Italia” party abstained from the vote except for one senator who voted against the agreement. Giorgia Meloni’s “Fratelli d’Italia” party also voted against it, with senator Giovan Battista Fazzolari who expressed strong concerns regarding Doha’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood and described the agreement as “submission” and “contamination” by Qatar.
Matteo Salvini’s “Lega” also voted against the agreement, but the position of the party seemed quite mild as its leader highlighted how Qatar has a population that barely reaches 3 millions while Iran has 81 million people and its leader, Ali Khamenei, depicted Israel as a “virus and a cancer to remove”, during a statement made last week. Senator Pierferdinando Casini, who supports the left-wing coalition, sided with Salvini on Israel’s right to exist and voted in favor of the agreement with Qatar, defining its approval as “a must”.
Supporting Israel and signing agreements with those who fight it
It sounds quite strange for someone to support Israel while being in favor of an agreement with a country like Qatar which is well-known to sponsor Islamist extremist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and which has been accused by a wide range of nations of supporting Hamas and jihadists groups in Syria and Libya. Let’s not forget that the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf Qaradawi, is not only based in Doha, but he also used the screens of the Qatari tv channel al-Jazeera to divulge Islamist propaganda and invoke jihad in Syria.
On one occasion, Qaradawi justified terrorist attacks on Israeli soil, while in another speech he claimed how “Allah imposed Hitler upon the Jews to punish them” and “Allah willing, next time the punishment will come from the hands of the believers”.
In another video intervention, Qaradawi invoked the death penalty for those who live Islam because “it’s the only way to grant Islam’s survival”.
It is also important to keep in mind that Qatar has been isolated by other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Bahrein and Syria after being accused of supporting jihadist groups on Syrian soil and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Libya. In 2014, the Muslim Brotherhood was placed under investigation in the United Kingdom, while in the United States the Trump administration considered its potential black-listing.
Additionally, it makes no sense to say that Qatar “barely has 3 million people while Iran has 81 million people” and this is for two reasons:
- The power of these two countries (and especially Qatar) does not come from the number of inhabitants (who are often victims of their regimes), but rather by the money; and Qatar has plenty of economic resources to be used for infiltration and influence on an international level.
- Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran have been maintaining close links, as emerged during the year of Islamist rule in Egypt with Mohamed Morsy, when the FJP leader initiated relations with Iran. The meeting between Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members and Iran’s “al-Quds” leaders in Turkey during that time is a clear example. Let’s also not forget that Iranian islamists following Khomeini’s ideology have always admired the ideas of Sayyid Qutb, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent strategy, deeply studying his writings. It is not a case that Hamas is supported by both, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
As a consequence, it makes no sense for these senators to side with Israel while supporting Qatar, because it unavoidably leads to an evident contradiction.
The risk of Islamist infiltration within Italy’s Academia
A recent memorandum published by the New York City-based “Lawfare Project” revealed a very serious situation regarding Qatar’s interference within the US educational system and specifically in universities.
The document examined the possible application of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 U.S.C. §§ 611-621 (“FARA”), to agents of the government of Qatar after examining the nature and extent of Qatar’s involvement in the American education system and the influence Qatar exerts through its funding of programs that amount to paid political speech that emphasize an understanding of only the positive aspects of Islam while omitting a balanced discussion of other religions or belief systems. This is a serious issue as such perspectives appear as originating organically from American universities, rather than being identified as the product of Qatar’s influence. As cited in the report, since 2012, Qatar has been a top supporter of universities throughout the United States, giving approximately $1.5 billion to 28 universities in the form of monetary gifts and contracts. This support comes through the Qatar National Research Fund and its parent organization, the Qatar Foundation.
The Lawfare Project also exposed how the government of Qatar has been financing an extensive influence operation in America by funding think tanks, activist organizations, mosques, and now American universities and education programs. The influence operation has engaged in political and ideological activities that benefit Qatar while instilling aggressive anti-Semitism that continues to spread in American society.
It is therefore more than legitimate to express concerns regarding the agreement signed between Italy and Qatar as it will open the doors of research and academia to a counterpart whose “modus operandi” and aims are already well-known on an international level. Qatar’s infiltration within university circles could not only provide a “Trojan horse” to Islamist ideology and interfere in studies and researches, but it could also influence foreign policies.