By Eugene Smith
The academic after whom Durham University’s Al-Qasimi Building is named is the emir of a United Arab Emirates province accused of abusing human rights, Palatinate can report.
Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi, a Durham graduate and author who has ruled the Emirate of Sharjah since 1972, donated £2.25 million to the University for the construction of a new building to house the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (IMEIS) in 1999.
The building, which is also home to the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA), is located opposite St Mary’s College and was opened in 2003.
Dr Al-Qasimi’s emirate has been condemned by various human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, which claims the regime is responsible for “torture, restrictions on freedoms of expression and association, and violations of women’s rights.”
In 2011, the same organisation singled out the Emirate of Sharjah for its conviction of 17 migrant workers for murder in March 2010, “despite evidence their confessions were unreliable and the product of police torture.” An Indian group named Lawyers for Human Rights International (LFHRI) claimed police beat the men with clubs, subjected them to electric shocks, deprived them of sleep, and forced them to stand on one leg for prolonged periods.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International criticised Dr Al-Qasimi’s regime in 2015 for the detention of an Egyptian national by the emirate’s Preventive Security Services.
More recently, the high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney visited an April 2016 summit in the emirate’s main city of Sharjah, attended by Dr Al-Qasimi, to declare that regional governments “need to be vocal about human rights.”
Human rights groups and international commentators further note the emirate’s draconian social codes. In the Emirate of Sharjah, it is reportedly illegal for unmarried members of the opposite sex “to be alone in public places or in suspicious times or circumstances.”
Additionally, according to a 2001 state pamphlet, women are forbidden to wear “short clothing above the knee,” “tight and transparent clothing that describes the body,” or “clothing that exposes the stomach and back.”
Sharjah is also the only emirate in the UAE to prohibit the sale of alcohol, and consumption is solely permissible by a valid Alcohol Licence holder, provided they only drink in their own home.
In response to these allegations, the University referred to Dr Al-Qasimi’s payment as “a large gift of the order published in the public domain.”
A spokesperson also told Palatinate: “The University is a self-governing institution with charitable purposes operating within the framework of UK law. That framework guarantees our independence.
“We have in place a comprehensive and transparent ethical framework led by the University Ethics Advisory Committee (UEAC), which […] ensures we uphold our purposes and values, including the University’s commitment to human rights. The University’s policy on gifts is clear that any connection between the giving of a gift and influencing research or educational activity within the University is completely unacceptable and would result in the rejection of the gift.
“The University is committed to ensuring that academic enquiry and debate is open, honest and unafraid to engage with controversial issues in both research and education.”
Meanwhile, speaking at the aforementioned April 2016 summit attended by Amal Clooney, Dr Al-Qasimi defended his governance: “Observers of the experience of Sharjah, a small emirate with big experience, know that while we focus on scientific and technological advancement, it is always accompanied by moral and social development.”
Photograph: Des Blenkinsopp via Creative Commons