Saudi prince Alwaleed Bin Talal gives Cambridge University £8m for Islamic studies centre

Le prince saoudien Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, huitième plus grande fortune au monde et patron de « Kingdom Holding », demeure en 2007 selon la revue américaine « Forbes », l’homme le plus riche du monde arabe, avec une fortune évaluée à 20 milliards de dollars.

Cambridge University has been given £8 million by a Saudi Arabian prince to establish an Islamic studies centre. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, ranked in the top 20 richest men in the world, with a fortune of about £10 billion, has donated the cash to the university to fund a centre in his name for the study of the role of Islam in the Middle East and globally. The gift has been recommended by the university’s general board and is expected to be announced in June.

The grandson of King Ibn Saud and nephew of King Abudllah, the prince counts the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall among his friends. With a huge portfolio generating massive returns – he calls his investments his « hundred wives » – the 50-year-old is the biggest single shareholder in Citigroup, the world’s biggest bank. In 2005 he bought the Savoy Hotel in London for about £220 million. Last year, he became the first person to buy an Airbus A380 superjumbo to use as a private jet, dubbed the « flying palace ».

Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal hit the headlines in 2001 when his offer of cash for the victims of the September 11 attacks in New York was turned down after he criticised American foreign policy. New York’s then mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, rejected a £6.6 million donation when the businessman issued a statement that America had to adopt a « more balanced stance » on Palestine. The row belies the prince’s influence in America, however.

He is the biggest foreign investor in the US and has the ear of its leaders and business figures. He also learnt the basics of commerce at Menlo College, in San Francisco, in the Seventies. The title of his biography, Alwaleed: Businessman, Billionaire, Prince, signifies how he would be liked to be perceived.

A renowned philanthropist, the prince has made two donations of £10 million to establish Islamic studies centres at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Georgetown, in Washington. He also gave £10 million to fund an Islamic art wing at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Kingdom Foundation, his Riyadh-based charity, has earmarked £100 million for projects aimed at improving understanding between the West and the Islamic world.

The gift to Cambridge, which will transform its Islamic studies department, follows news of a £4 million donation to the university to widen access from alumnus and businessman Harvey McGrath, former chairman of the Man Group.

About 15 institutions in Britain offer more than 200 courses in Islamic or Middle Eastern studies. Last year, the Government defined Islamic studies as a « strategically important subject ». British universities receive more than £200 million a year in donations, with at least 50 institutions engaged in fund-raising.

by Julie Henry, Education Correspondent, 06/04/2008

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