Twitter, Saudi Billions, and India

His Royal Highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud is a member of the Saudi royal family. Per Wikipedia, he is a "nephew of the late Saudi King Abdullah, a grandson of Ibn Saud, the first Saudi king, and a grandson of Riad Al Solh, Lebanon's first Prime Minister." To say he is an influential person would be an understatement.

Oh, and he is also the largest individual shareholder in Citigroup. He bought more than half a billion dollars ($590 million to be precise) in a preferred-stock issue. (link). This investment "represents the largest proportion of" Alwaleed Bin Talal's person wealth.(link). Citi has paid fines almost every year to different regulatory authorities the world over for violating perhaps every single regulation there is in the book - in 2005, it agreed to pay the US SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) $20 million for failing to provide its customers with "material information." Two months later, the same year, it agreed to pay more than $200 million to settle more charges. The same year, the UK's FSA (Financial Services Authority) fined Citi more than ten million pounds for "violations of bond trading regulations."  Citi paid fines in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 over various violations.

But this post is not about Citi. It is about Alwaleed Bin Talal. Actually, it is not even about him, but it is important to look at Talal's past to understand the present.


In 2006, Alwaleed Bin Talal gifted $20 million each to Harvard University and Georgetown University (news link) (the $20 million grant to Georgetown University was the second-largest ever in the Jesuit-run university's existence - news link). Harvard University used the money to start an Islamic Studies Program. One Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Fellow is Shakeel Khan, who area of specialization is "Islamization in North India" and "the role of Sufism in facilitating this process." Among the "core faculty" at the Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program is Nicholas Burns, at present at The Sultan of Oman Professor of International Relations, Kennedy School of Government. Burns was the 19th Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, during 2005-2008.

Of greater interest is another faculty members of the Islamic Studies Program - Diana Eck. She is Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies; Fredric Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; but her greater claim to fame may well be as the linchpin of the lynch mob that got Dr Subramanian Swamy's course cancelled at Harvard University in 2011. The proposal to exclude Dr. Swamy's course was forwarded by Eck. She had this to say at the time - "Swamy’s op-ed clearly crosses the line by demonizing an entire religious community and calling for violence against their sacred places" (link). Diana Eck received support for her amendment from Sugata Bose, faculty at Harvard University and currently a member of Parliament in India. Diana Eck, in case you are wondering, also wrote the book, "India: A Sacred Geography", that was a magnificent exercise in dissembling on Ayodhya and Dwarka. I wrote a lengthy review where I pointed out gaps, flaws, and omissions that pointed to glaring lapses in scholarship, or worse (review link). (In passing, it may also be pertinent to mention that it was Dr. Swamy's fast-unto-death in 1987 that had yielded the government into ordering an inquiry into the killing of about forty Muslims of Hashimpura, Meerut on 22 May 1987 by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) - ponder the irony of Eck charging Dr. Swamy with being hateful of Muslims)

Returning to Alwaleed Bin Talal, HRH, in 2001 - a month after the Sep 11 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City that killed more than two thousand people -  donated $10 million to the Twin Towers Fund after the Sep 11 attacks in New York City (news link). The donation was accompanied by a statement that called upon the United States to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause. ... While the U.N. passed clear resolutions numbered 242 and 338 calling for the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip decades ago, our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek" [bold-emphasis mine]

The then-mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani returned the check, saying, "I entirely reject that statement."

In 2002, Alwaleed Bin Talal gave $500,000 to CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group headquartered on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.), often linked to and described as a front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood, a Hamas-linked terror group. Egypt-born journalist and author Tawfik Hamid described CAIR as ""perhaps the most conspicuous organization to persistently accuse opponents of Islamophobia". He criticised the way the organisation uses the "charge of 'Islamophobia' as a tool to intimidate and blackmail those ... who rightly criticize current Islamic practices and preachings"". (link) As recently as December 2015, CAIR suggested that the US itself was to blame for the terrorist mass-shootings by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino, California, that left fourteen people dead and more than twenty injured. This is what CAIR had to say - "Let’s not forget that some of our own foreign policy, as Americans, as the West, have fueled that extremism". (link) In 2014, the UAE had designated CAIR a terrorist group. (link)

Even more disturbing is the trial in what has become known as the "Muslim Mafia" case.
In 2009, WND books published a book titled, "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America". (link) The book was the result of a half-year long undercover investigation into CAIR that allegedly revealed the group's ties to terror organizations. CAIR in turn, the same year, sued Dave Gaubatz, a former highly decorated counter-terrorism specialist. Gaubatz trained people, including his son, to go deep inside CAIR, and which resulted in the book. After a lengthy discovery process, the case was ready to go to trial. This is something CAIR wanted to avoid, since it would put into the public domain many of the thousands of pages of documents that formed part of the discovery. It therefore filed motion to reopen discovery. This motion was denied by Federal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in December 2015 (link) (Judge Kollar-Kotelly's name may also strike a bell with those who watched the US government's anti-trust case against Microsoft in the 1990s; Judge Kollar-Kotelly was assigned the United States v. Microsoft anti-trust case, after Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson was removed from the case.) (link)

The same year, Alwaleed Bin Talal gave $27 million "to a Saudi telethon raising money for the Committee for the Support of the al-Quds Intifada, a Saudi "charity"" (link)

Moving on, Alwaleed Bin Talal was also the largest stakeholder in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp outside the Murdoch family (by 2010 he owned about 7 percent of News Corp; he sold most of his stake in 2015) (link) One of News Corp's properties is the conservative (Christian right-wing) news channel Fox News. What did this investment in Fox News, of all channels, yield? 2005 saw Paris rocked by the worst street violence since 1968 (link). The New York Times has this to say about the riots - "a majority of the youths committing the acts are Muslim, and of African or North African origin" (link) Even though it was argued that there were no religious overtones to the rioting, "France's most influential Islamic group issued a religious edict, or fatwa, condemning the violence."
At the time of the riots, Fox News, like many other news channels, had also been covering these riots. Its screen had been carrying a ticker that read - "Muslim riots in Paris."
Alwaleed Bin Talal got into the act. He telephoned Rupert Murdoch. Read how Alwaleed described that phone call: "I picked up the phone and called Murdoch ...I said that I was speaking not as a shareholder, but as a viewer of Fox. I said that these are not Muslim riots, they are riots"
The result was the Fox News crawl changed from "Muslim Riots in Paris" across the bottom of the screen to "civil riots" (link)

Let's return to 2002 one last time. Alwaleed Bin Talal's diverse investments can perhaps best be explained by the man himself. had said - "We have to be logical and understand that the U.S. administration is subject to U.S. public opinion. We are not so active in this sphere [public opinion]. And to bring the decision-maker on your side, you not only have to be active inside the U.S. Congress or the administration but also inside U.S. society."

Let me start the conclusion of this post by talking about a certain person named Raheel Khursheed. He is "Head - News, Politics, Govt @TwitterIndia".
See the following screenshots (credit: IndiaFacts, link)




More recently, Raheel was in the news for condoning - if not outright indulging - the mocking and online trolling of a teenager, Jahanvi Behal. There is a post describing the controversy by Rupa Subramanya (link), and I reproduce some of her post here:
"he sent out a couple of tweets which appeared to poke fun at Jhanvi Behal, a 15-year-old young woman who's in the news for challenging the views of a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student activist Kanhiya Kumar on the allegations of seditious behaviour by JNU students. Ms Behal was reported in the news to be challenging Mr Kumar to a public debate on the topic. ... Unfortunately, rather than encouraging Ms Behal, Mr Khursheed appeared to mock her instead, sending out the following tweet which he subsequently deleted. ... In fact, what we heard from Mr Khursheed in the immediate aftermath are snarky retweets which appear to make light of the incident. Subsequently, as previously noted he replied to a query today suggesting that his deleted tweet was misconstrued."
The post also has screenshots of tweets; some tweets were deleted by Raheel.

It begged the obvious question - how was Twitter allowing such a person to continue in a prominent position as his, despite a record of behavior that would have invited strict measures in the United States, where there is much less tolerance for misogyny and religious bigotry as exhibited by Raheel.

The story begins to come full circle when you find out that Alwaleed Bin Talal was an investor in the Series G funding of Twitter, in 2011 (link). He invested approximately $300 million. (link) In 2015, Alwaleed Bin Talal upped his investment; he and his investment company (Kingdom Holding Company) now own more than 5% of Twitter. (link, link, link)

Jack Dorsey - co-founder and currently CEO of Twitter - on the other hand, owns a little over 2% of Twitter.

If you have been reading this post this far, I'm sure you would have started to connect the dots.

This post first appeared in OpIndia on March 15, 2016
Post on OpIndia


© 2016, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.