UNC-Chapel Hill mulls opening business school in Qatar

As the liberation of Afghanistan continues unabated and well ahead of schedule, and as Hamas takes credit for another bloody round of suicide-bomb attacks on civilians and teenagers in Israel, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill mulls a proposal to open a business school in the Emirate of Qatar.

Qatar is a tiny Middle Eastern country of about 770,000 people. It lies on the eastern border of Saudi Arabia and faces the Persian Gulf. According to the UNC-CH website about the proposal, the school would expand the bachelor of science in business administration degree program by basing a campus of the Kenan-Flagler Business School and UNC-CH in Qatar. The proposed “UNC-CH-Q,” as the website refers to it, would initially enroll about 25 Qatari students who are expected to go on to work in the oil and petroleum business. Freshmen and sophomores will be overseen by the College of Arts and Sciences; juniors and seniors by the business school.

Students must meet both schools’ admission requirements plus the swim-test requirement for graduation and the multicultural perspectives curriculum. UNC-CH will control the program’s design. Operating costs, however, will be borne by the Qatar Foundation, run by one of the emir’s three wives. The foundation seeks to establish a business school in its “education city.” Two other U.S. universities are already there. Virginia Commonwealth University runs an arts school for women. Cornell University runs a medical school.

Although some critics wonder whether oil money wasn’t behind the university’s gushing enthusiasm for the proposal, UNC-CH justifies it on the basis of furthering the “globalization” of the university, which includes bringing new intellectual perspectives back to students, new research opportunities to faculty, and a new context for international public service for students and faculty. As Chancellor James Moeser told a student forum on the proposal, “To be the leading public university in the world, we need to be a global university.”

Not all in the UNC-CH community favor the proposal. A recent email survey of Arts and Science and business school faculty found about one-fourth strongly in favor of the proposal and a similar proportion strongly opposed to it. Faculty and students have spoken for and against the proposal in forums conducted on campus. Professor of Management Dennis Rondinelli has strongly objected to the proposal’s rationale and security issues, noting that Qatar “is completely surrounded by countries with regimes hostile to the United States — Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates — or those such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman that harbor groups dedicated to harming Americans.”

The final decision, as Moeser told a student forum in November, rests with Moeser himself. “At some point, someone is going to make a decision, and that’s my job.”

Qatar (pronounced, as the UNC-CH website points out, like “Kotter” as in “Welcome Back Kotter”) has become famous internationally as the home of Al-Jazeera, the “CNN of the Muslim world” that has been criticized by President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for providing Osama bin Laden with a mouthpiece. Its owner is Sheik Hamad Ibn Khalifa Al-Thani, who also has been the emir of Qatar since a successful coup against his father in 1995. Hamad is also the president of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The regime in Qatar is totalitarian. The Al-Thani family has been in power for more than a century. Non-Muslim religious services are allowed to be conducted only in private, and then only after notifying the government. The U.S. State Department notes that “the government has embarked upon a program of ‘Qatarization,’ which is aimed at reducing the number of foreign workers.” The Qatari government monitors websites and email traffic for dissent against the regime, has imprisoned critics, monitors private social, sports, trade, and other groups, which are required to register with the government, and bars entry to international organizations that are critical of the regime or other Arab governments.

Such organizations include Amnesty International, which has been stymied in its attempts to judge Qatar on human rights, or even to investigate the numerous reports it has received of torture there. The State Department reports that young children, primarily of African or South Asian descent, are forced to work as jockeys in camel races. Other concerns include physical and even sexual abuse of foreign domestics. Significantly, Freedom House lists Qatar as one of the “unfree” countries of the world. In Freedom House’s ratings of “Political Rights” and “Civil Liberties,” Qatar receives a 6 out of 7 for both (on a scale where 1 is the most free and 7 is the most repressive). By comparison, the United States rates 1’s on both scales, and Afghanistan and Iraq rate 7’s.

In the late 1990s, Qatar reportedly allowed Osama bin Laden to visit often, and even allowed al-Qaeda to take up public collections at mosques.

On Oct. 10, the OIC headed by Hamad held an emergency meeting in Doha to discuss U.S. retaliation against the Taliban in Afghanistan. While the OIC avoided condemning the U.S. action, the Los Angeles Times reported, the OIC’s “rhetoric was venomous, condemning Israel as a sponsor of ‘state terrorism’ against Palestine.

“The delegates also rejected any attempts to categorize Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorists, although both groups have targeted civilian and military in suicide bombing missions in the past. . . At one point, Sheik Hamad even seemed to blame Israel for the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Ettela’at, the international Persian daily, reporting on a meeting between Hamad and Iran President Mohammad Khatami, wrote the following on Oct. 25: “The Qatari emir said that the Zionist regime and its prime minister [Ariel] Sharon are exploiting the Sept. 11 terrorist attack to intensify its violence against the Palestinians. He said that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the symbol of democracy among the regional states. He said the neighboring states are following Iran’s lead in promoting democracy.”

“I am optimistic about the future of the region, thanks to the pattern set by Iran for promoting democracy,” Hamad said, according to Ettela’at.