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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 October 2018

A quarter-century of friendship between Khalaf Al Habtoor and Illinois College

Illinois College, a liberal arts centre of learning in Jacksonville, Florida, will have a brand new archive and full supporting research facilities as a result of Khalaf Al Habtoor ’s generosity.

Bon voyage to Khalaf Al Habtoor on his trip to the US, and congratulations to Illinois College, which will be better off to the tune of $600,000 when he returns to the UAE.

More important, the small liberal arts college will have a brand new archive and full supporting research facilities as a result of Mr Al Habtoor’s generosity. No wonder Barbara Farley, president of the college, was so enthusiastic in her thanks to him.

“I am enormously grateful for Mr Al Habtoor’s great commitment and loyalty to Illinois College. This is a wonderful gift for IC and a testament to the college’s remarkable place in history. We look forward to welcoming Dr Al Habtoor,” she said.

The Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives will be formally opened at a ceremony next week while he is on a visit to the campus.

The event puts the seal on a 25-year relationship between Mr Al Habtoor, one of the grandees of the UAE business establishment, and Illinois College. How the two got together in the first place is an interesting story, with relevance to US-UAE relations in the present day.

In his autobiography, Mr Al Habtoor describes how, back in 1989, he was introduced to Paul Findley, who represented Illinois in US Congress for many years and had graduated from the college in 1943.

Mr Findley had been highly critical in print of the power of the Israeli lobby in Washington, which he said was a “suffocating influence” in American politics that prevented an open discussion of the Middle East’s problems.

Mr Al Habtoor invited the congressman to a dinner at the old Metropolitan hotel in Dubai (sadly no longer there, but being reconstructed into a brand new hotels-and-leisure complex). Mr Findley was one of a list of VIPs from the UN and the diplomatic world, as well as prominent thinkers and businessmen, who discussed regional issues that evening, and Mr Al Habtoor was impressed.

“I was so sorry that I had asked him to restrict his talk to no more than five minutes,” Mr Al Habtoor later wrote.

That dinner led to an enduring friendship that has extended to the two men’s wives and families.

In 2010, Mr Al Habtoor flew to Illinois to address graduating students, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the college, as well as membership of the exclusive Phi Alpha Literary Society.

In addition to his friend Mr Findley, another notable member of Phi Alpha was Abraham Lincoln, the assassinated president of the US, and “one of the historical figures I most admire”, Mr Al Habtoor wrote. Some of the Al Habtoor Archive will house documents relating to the late president.

Mr Al Habtoor will visit other parts of the US on this trip, from Georgia to Texas, and is likely to meet up with another old friend and former president, Jimmy Carter.

“It’s a great opportunity for Americans to see another side of the UAE and the Gulf,” says an aide to Mr Al Habtoor. “He is not afraid to give his opinion on issues of the day, and it will be good for them to hear it from somebody like him, with all his experience of the region and of world affairs.”

It’s not currently known whether Mr Al Habtoor’s trip will extend to Washington, DC, but if it does, I sincerely hope he bumps into the vice president Joe Biden.

fkane@thenational.ae

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