Saudi Prince’s $500k Gift Attracts Media Coverage

Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has sparked a stream of controversy and media attention after donating $500,000 to the Phillips Academy George H. W. Bush ’42 Scholarship Fund. Bin Talal, the sixth richest man in the world according to Forbes magazine, attempted to donate $10 million to the September 11th fund in 2001. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rejected the gift, however, condemning Bin Talal’s charge that Americans brought on the September 11th attacks because of US foreign policy in the Middle East. Though Bin Talal’s donation was made in June, his gift came to media attention this past December, when the Arab News reported a list of the Prince’s donations. The Boston Globe, The London Times, The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, The New York Sun, the Associated Press wire, and CNN then picked up the story in the first week of January. Members of the Andover community and others unaffiliated with the school debated on a possible ulterior motive behind the gift. Some critics believe the prince may be attempting to curry favor with the former President and his son, President George W. Bush ’64. According to Director of Communications Sharon Britton, the Office of Academy Resources (OAR) specifically solicited the money from Bin Talal, because his admiration for former president Bush was widely known, she claims. Mr. Bush ’42 did not know about the solicitation of the gift. The prince’s gift to the program was one of 60 solicited by the fund-raising committee to the $3.3 million Bush Scholars Program, which was announced at the former President’s 60th reunion last June. The program will distribute funds to Phillips Academy students with financial need who “exhibit intelligence and strong leadership qualities.” While some popular media critics immediately condemned Phillips Academy for accepting Bin Talal’s donation, Ms. Britton said that the school has no plans to return the money. She remarked, “I don’t know why it’s all right for the prince to donate in American businesses, but it is not all right for him to donate profits for scholarships that promote the test of democratic principles.” Ms. Britton also disputed claims that the donation was dealt with differently from other gifts, “There’s nothing particularly remarkable about it. It was solicited just like any other donation.” Ms. Britton also noted that the administration has received few complaints regarding the solicitation of the prince’s gift. Despite his large investments in the US economy, Bin Talal has created a wave of controversy throughout the country with his often questionable exploits. Following the September 11th attacks, the prince presented a gift of $10 million to New York City to help victims recover from terrorist attacks. However, he later issued a statement criticizing US foreign policy, stating, “At times like this one, we must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack. I believe the government of the United States should re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause.” After hearing of this remark, Mayor Giuliani refused to accept the donation. Although some consider Giuliani’s snub to the gift to be justified, others believe this refusal to be a result of ill-timing and poor word choices by Bin Talal. The prince’s gift to the Academy has also generated debate because of a large donation he once made to the controversial Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Although, according to CAIR’s mission statement, it strives to “[present] an Islamic perspective on issues of importance to the American public,” the organization has alleged ties to the anti-Israeli terrorist group Hamas. However, Ms. Britton does not believe that Bin Talal has any direct ties to terrorism but that he actually opposes such evils. She notes, “There is no evidence that we know of that the prince supports terrorism, and in fact, everything that I’ve seen him write says that he condemns it.” In fact, shortly following September 11th, Bin Talal wrote an editorial piece for The New York Times in which he expressed his grief over the attacks and denounced terrorism. He remarked, “With regard to the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, I reject the notion that any person or any cause can justify terrorism. The Sept. 11 attacks will never be justified… I have long sought to bridge the gap between views of people from the Middle East, especially Saudis, and those of Americans.” Although he is not directly affiliated with the Saudi Arabian government, Prince Alwaleed is the nephew of Saudi’s current ruler, King Fahd. He is the single largest Arab investor in U.S. industry, with billion dollar holdings in dozens of US based companies- including AOL Time Warner, Xerox, Citigroup, Compaq, and Kodak. Instructor in History Peter Drench noticed “no clear problem” with the donation, noting that there was no evidence that the prince had any intentions of making a political statement with the gift. He stated, “This situation is one in which cherished values appear to be in competition with each other. We value the right to free political expression, and we value the right of institutions to solicit support and for individuals to offer it.”