Recently, Cambridge University signed a deal with the Saudi monarchy to establish a research centre KACST-Cambridge (King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology – Cambridge Centre) dedicated to biological, chemical and engineering research. This is supposed to be the first physical site established outside the UK in Cambridge’s 800 year history.
The Saudi Monarchy
The true face of the Saudi Arabian monarchy is evident to everybody all over the world. The regime is promoting the Wahabi clan of radical Islam and is relentlessly funding terrorist groups in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Kenya, Pakistan and Indonesia with militants, weapons, bombs and money. In Pakistan and Indonesia alone, the regime is funding hundreds of thousands of religious madrassas which serve as breeding grounds for extremism. Furthermore, the regime is also heavily criticized for harbouring dictators of the Middle Eastern region including Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt – dictators who imposed decades of brutality on the poor and oppressed people of their own country with the help of the Saudi Regime. Saudi Arabia has the largest American military bases in the region. Drones flown from these bases have killed hundreds of people in Yemen – including women and children. Recently, there are reports that a Saudi Arabian black op team was involved in gas bomb attacks in Damascus, Syria that killed over 1400 men, women and children. Saudi Arabia is openly supporting Syrian terrorist groups through militants, weapons and money.
Regarding the domestic situation, laws in Saudi Arabia are highly repressive. The state has an appalling human rights record and is continuously using the legal system to abuse poor and oppressed people of their own country, especially women. Chopping off hands as punishment for theft and beheading for murder or possession of narcotics is the norm under this regime. Royals and the rich get royal pardons for all offences by paying huge sums of money. The country also has highly discriminatory laws against women. The regime is shamelessly promoting brutal religious clerics – issuing directives including asking men to molest working women, forcing minor girls to wear the burka (full face hijab) as the only alleged way to avoid rape and banning women from driving. Workers in Saudi Arabia are often imported from countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, and are effectively kept as slaves without even basic human rights. They are deprived of their travel documents and forced to work for 12 hour shifts in extremely hot weather. Trafficking agents take huge shares of their salaries, and if the workers try to protest, they are immediately jailed and deported by the trafficking agents with the help of the Saudi police and government officials.
Cambridge University seems to have no qualms about setting up a partnership with such a regime. The formal agreement for the Centre was signed by a Prince of the Saudi Regime with the Cambridge University Vice-Chancellor. According to the website of KACST-Cambridge, the focus of research will be on the research of emerging technologies relevant to ‘long-term Saudi development strategy’. It is clear that any research collaboration with the abusive and despotic Saudi regime can bring about nothing good. It will equip the regime with technology and equipment that will ultimately be used for repression and attacks against its own people and others around the world.
The extent of the availability of Cambridge resources to the Saudi regime is evident through the profile of the Cambridge people involved in the venture – one is the Chairman of the Board of Graduate Studies (Professor David Cardwell) and second is the Chairman of the St John Innovation Centre in Cambridge (Professor Ian Hutching). The deal was neither discussed in the University Council or at department level, nor was any consent given by the wider academic and student community. No information of the partnership deal is available in the University Reporter.
If left to profit-seeking officials, Cambridge will see many more of these dodgy deals involving human rights issues. The government has reduced research council funding to universities thus rendering the temptation of such objectionable partnerships increasingly hard to resist.
The role of students
Cambridge students must take these actions of the University seriously and fight against such shady deals to defend their University’s education and research establishments. Such a partnership with regimes that treat workers in this way should immediately be stopped. Students should raise this matter in their JCRs, MCRs, Student Unions, societies and activists groups to demand that the university immediately stop this partnership – but the struggle must not stop there.
We must understand that this is a wider issue concerning the crisis of capitalism, whereby the coalition government has cut funding to higher education, whilst showering billions of pounds on banks and large businesses – draining public money into bonuses or into stagnation in banks. Students, academics and staff should demand that the government increase funding for research. Cambridge Student Unions, JCRs, MCRs and activist groups should initiate a campaign for properly funded higher education and, alongside the trade unions, fight for socialism. This is the only way forward for the defence of our education and for the millions of people living under despotic regimes around the world.