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Harvard Cancels Lecture by Saudi Prince Following Journalist Khashoggi’s Killing

Harvard Kennedy School
Harvard Kennedy School By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah, Crimson Staff Writer

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said this week that the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center has asked him not to deliver a long-planned lecture in Cambridge as his family faces mounting scrutiny over the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“I got notice… very politely saying ‘This may not be the right time for you to come and lecture because of the Khashoggi affair,’” the prince told the Daily Beast during an interview held in his Virginia home earlier this week.

Representatives for the Kennedy School and Prince Turki did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs to disinvite Prince Turki comes one month after Khashoggi — a Washington Post columnist and one-time ally of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — was killed under mysterious circumstances in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Representatives for the Saudi royal family, including Prince Turki, initially denied any involvement with Khashoggi’s death.

The family later admitted the killing was premeditated after Turkish authorities produced compelling evidence indicating the regime was responsible. Several analysts who study the Saudi royal family have said any order to kill Khashoggi must have earned the crown prince’s sign-off. Last month, Prince Turki said he was “shocked” by Khashoggi’s death, but that he stood behind Prince Mohammed.

Prince Turki said in the interview with the Daily Beast that he “simply can’t understand” why Harvard chose to cancel the lecture and accompanying residency, calling it “guilt by association.” Though the visit is not currently listed on the Belfer Center’s website, Prince Turki has visited the Kennedy School to give similar talks at least five times in the past 15 years.

“Someone like me who has not had anything to do with any of what is happening in the Kingdom, to be… stigmatized by innuendo… from an institution like Harvard,” he told the Daily Beast. “Academic engagement and people’s exchange of knowledge and knowhow should be encouraged, rather than stopped or interrupted.”

The aborted lecture is not the only link between Harvard and the Saudi royal. The Belfer Center’s Project on Saudi and Gulf Cooperation Council Security “is made possible through a gift from HRH Prince Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia,” according to its website.

The gift is one of several Harvard has received from members of the Saudi royal family. Saudi royals have also made donations to the Kennedy School, the Islamic Studies program, and the Extension School.

As recently as Oct. 24, the Kennedy School said it would not sever its ties with the Saudi regime. At the time, Douglas W. Elmendorf, dean of the Kennedy School, wrote in an emailed statement that the “Kennedy School has accepted money from Saudi Arabia for various research projects and teaching activities.” He added the school has “made no changes in that work” — a policy the cancelled lecture appears to contradict.

Harvard later told the Boston Globe that it is “following recent events with concern” and “assessing potential implications for existing programs” — but that it would “continue as before to welcome scholars and students from Saudi Arabia to the Harvard community.”

Correction: Nov. 7, 2018

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies received donations from members of the Saudi royal family. In fact, the donations in question went to the school's Islamic Studies program.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

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