Qatari leadership says the United States supports its decision to host the Hamas political office in Doha, and the Biden administration has praised its role as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, facilitating negotiations over the hostages. During a pause in fighting partially brokered by Qatar, Hamas released some 100 hostages.
Academics are an important part of Qatari ties with the United States. A number of U.S. universities, including Georgetown and Northwestern, have campuses in Qatar’s Education City on the edge of the capital Doha.
The Qatari government pays hundreds of millions of dollars in operations costs to the universities each year and in return the branches provide elite higher education for hundreds of Qatari students as well as others from around the region.
Qatar also hosts the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East, Al Udeid Air Base, which can house more than 10,000 U.S. military personnel.
Nonetheless, Qatar has received a steady stream of criticism for its links to Hamas in recent months from critics of the Biden administration in the United States and from Israeli leadership. Most recently Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the country “problematic” in a leaked audio recording.
Texas A&M University was attacked for its ties to Qatar in a January letter from an antisemitism watchdog group. The letter accused the university of involvement in a covert deal that gave Qatar control of nuclear weapons technology and described Qatar as a country that supports Hamas and other armed groups.
“The misinformation campaign had no bearing on Thursday’s decision” to shutter the Qatar campus, university spokesman Mike Reilly said in a written statement. The discussion about the future of the branch “had begun before false information was reported about Texas A&M and Qatar,” the statement added.
University President Mark Welsh, a retired Air Force general, issued a rebuttal of the accusations at the time calling them “simply wrong” and “irresponsible.”
Texas A&M University has had a branch in Qatar for over two decades, during which time it has graduated over 1,500 engineering students.
Alumni and faculty of the university said they were shocked and saddened by the news.
“It was a great community to be part of where I always felt excited and hopeful of what’s to come and what I can build,” said Omar Barhoumi, 28, who majored in electrical engineers as well as mathematics and now works a cybersecurity analyst. He said he heard rumors that university would shutter for years, but is “disappointed” with the way the decision was made.
A research fellow at Georgetown University in Qatar, Danyel Reiche, said the closure of Texas A&M in Qatar ultimately means there is one less place for students to get a liberal arts education in the country.
“This education, the presence of these universities, makes students global citizens,” he said. “They learn critical thinking and that makes a contribution to Qatar and the region.”
This week’s statement from the university board said the institution began reviewing its decision to have a “physical presence in Qatar” in fall 2023 “due to the heightened instability in the Middle East.”
The university branch will be shuttered by 2028, the statement said, but a team will be assembled to ensure students can complete their studies.
El Chamaa reported from Beirut.