UK Government distances itself from the British University in Egypt over antisemitism scandal

International partnerships undoubtedly bring many social and economic benefits to students and academics. They can also bring unwanted baggage. British universities that partner or set up satellite campuses across the world can run into serious issues related to unethical funding sources, links to extremism and other possible conflicts of interest.

This has been very much the case this week with an antisemitism scandal erupting between Loughborough University and the British University in Egypt (BUE). The BUE was first set up by the British and Egyptian governments in 2004, with the aid of a group of universities, public figures and academics.

In March 2017, Mohamed Farid Fouad Khamis, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the British University in Egypt, gave a speech at a conference in Cairo which promoted the antisemitic conspiracy ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’. The title of the conference was ‘Sustainable Media and Development for Arab Societies, Real Challenges and Future Prospects’.

The Protocols is a forged document that purports to have information about a secret Jewish plot to subvert governments and enslave humanity. It was created and disseminated by the Russian secret police in 1903, a time when the Tsarist government was stoking up hatred against Jews for domestic purposes. It has been translated into multiple languages and was cited by American industrialist Henry Ford and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. It remains especially popular among nationalists and Islamists in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries.

A video of the talk was translated from the original Arabic by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). In it, Khamis claimed:

  • ·“The Protocols of Zion: one hundred of the most important Zionist leaders of the world assembled, got together, so that they agree on how to control the world. This event is definitely true and documented.”
  • “The hundred got together for a week behind closed doors, nobody can enter in their midst. So they discussed: how can we control the world? And they reached agreement on the protocols that are here. Some say there are 14 protocols and some say 24. And in both versions, it is written: ‘we will control the world with the media, then with money.’ The hundred got together and agreed to the protocols. Protocol means an agreement on a plan of action. And they were scared that it might leak out!”
  • “The protocols talk in a very clear way on how to carry out control of the media and whoever consumes it, will discover a very strange thing. He will understand the meaning of the ‘Arab Spring’ or the ‘Arab Autumn.’ Is it a black day? Yes it is! He will understand [former US Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice when she described ‘creative [destruction and] chaos [in the Middle East].’”

The Egyptian Minister for Higher Education and Scientific Research, who was also present at the conference, criticised Khamis in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper. CAA subsequently contacted the UK Government and Loughborough University and pressured them to sever relations with the institution so long as they continue to be associated with Khamis.

The matter has now been thoroughly investigated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). HEFCE announced that Loughborough University’s contract with the BUE, which was terminated in 2012, will award final degrees in December 2017.

The Government was clear about its position. The Minister of State for International Development, Alistair Burt MP, said: “I share your commitment to tackle antisemitism in all its forms, including in the perpetuation of the slanders within the Protocols of the Elders of Zion … I note your concerns about BUE very carefully. Thank you.”

Student Rights welcomes this principled stance. We particularly commend CAA for pursuing this case with HEFCE and the Department for International Development.

Previous reports by Student Rights and the Henry Jackson Society have focused on international partnerships and unethical funding sources. These include ‘At What Price? Transparency and Ethics in Higher Education Funding from Overseas’ (2013) and ‘A Degree of Influence: The Funding of Strategically Important Subjects in UK Universities’ (2009).

We will continue to hold to account British universities that partner, affiliate, accept money from or set up satellite campuses with foreign institutions which have a history of extremism or intolerance. British universities must be prepared to uphold British values at home and abroad.

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