Beyond Libya, Howard Davies had never got to grips with the Middle East

Seph Brown looks at Howard Davies's serial failures of moral leadership over the Middle East - not just his close financial links the the vile Gaddafi regime.

Seph Brown is the UK Director of Prosper Palestine, the international campaign to promote Palestinian goods and highlight the effects of illegal Israeli settlements; he is a former student at the LSE


Director of the London School of Economics, Sir Howard Davies, resigned on Thursday over the university’s financial links to Colonel Gaddafi. After his acceptance of a $1.5 million donation from the Gaddafi Foundation turned sour, Davies said in his resignation letter:

“…however laudable our intentions, in the light of developments in Libya the consequences have been highly unfortunate, and I must take responsibility for that.”

He also admitted being “embarrassed” by the decision to accept the dictator’s investment. His repeatedly lacklustre reactions to this colossal lapse in judgement is indicative of the fact that he has simply never got to grips with the seriousness of close cooperation with troubled countries throughout the Middle East.

In 2008, students and academics – including myself as Anti-Racism Officer of the Students’ Union at the time – raised concerns over a £2.4 million investment from Sheikh Abdullah al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates. In return, the university’s sleek new theatre was named after the late dictator, Sheikh Zayed.

The UAE is a country which denies citizenship to 80 per cent of its population, and hence most of the civil and human rights afforded only to citizens of the state. Moreover, Harvard’s Divinity School returned a $2.5 million donation after its benefactor, the Sheikh Zayed Centre, was linked to anti-Semitic and anti-American discourse. Davies was not ‘embarrassed’ by any of this.

It was not only the financial side of the university in which Davies mis-stepped in the Middle East.

In 2007, Davies intervened on a potential debate called within the University and College Union (UCU) over British links to universities in Israel. At this point in time the conversation was entirely academic and had not been brought to the LSE, yet Davies angered staff and students by effectively vetoing any discussion. He then refused calls to balance his statement by offering similar support to struggling Palestinian universities.

Whatever views there are on an academic boycott of Israel – I am against it – this hypocrisy did not go unnoticed across British universities.

The fact that Davies believes his support for Saif “fight to the last bullet” Gaddafi merely “backfired” shows the extent of his unwillingness or inability to engage with the serious consequences of overlooking human and civil rights in search of investment; however, Libya is not the only example where Sir Howard failed to uphold the ethical and academic integrity of the London School of Economics.

Hopefully the next Director will offer more thought to the values of the university rather than its balance sheet.

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