A commentator in an influential Arabic
language paper said it is “an outrage, in every sense of the word”
that wealthy Arab countries are not giving more money to help victims
of the earthquake in Haiti.
In an opinion piece published in the
influential London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayyat, Khaled Hroub,
a Palestinian academic at Cambridge University, wrote that while
millions are being wasted in the Arab world on trivial matters, Arabs
have failed to contribute respectable amounts of financial assistance
in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
“Even the Arab media, both print and
televised, are not giving this catastrophe enough attention to bring
it home for public opinion and strengthen feelings of human
solidarity,” Hroub wrote.
“Following the news coverage of the
the first days of the tragedy, the news of the earthquake and its
aftermath soon faded out,” he continued. “We began reading about
how the United States ‘occupied’ Haiti through military forces
that were sent there to protect the airport, facilitate the aid and
provide security, more than reports about the hundreds of thousands
of those afflicted who were sleeping in the streets.”
Hroub referred to a comparison of the
pledges of aid by countries and organizations all over the world
published in The Guardian. The British newspaper claimed that
United States has pledged the most money, amounting to around $160
million, followed by Canada and the World Bank.
No Arab countries were listed among the
top 20 donor countries and organizations in The Guardian’s
list. The first appearance of an Arab nation is the United Arab
Emirates, ranking in 23rd place.
But some argue that even if this is
true, the Arab world’s response is not unreasonable, and makes
“The feeling here in the region is
that these states are already giving a lot,” Dr. Mustafa Alani,
research program director at the Gulf Research Center told The Media
Still, Hroub was not alone in noticing
the absence of Arab states from the top of the list, with several
readers engaging in some ‘naming and shaming’.
“I don't see any
pledges from the rich oil producing Middle East countries,” one
reader wrote in a talkback. “So much for partnership and reaching
across... It seems to me the Western world always reaches out.”
Hroub also criticized non-Muslim
nations such as Venezuela, Cuba, China and Russia, all of which he
accused of sending minimal amounts of aid.
Hroub said that despite a deadly 2003
earthquake in Bam, Iran, in which more than 26,000 people were
killed, Iran only sent a symbolic contribution to Haiti.
“We don’t know how [Iranian
President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad wants to confront the American
arrogance throughout the world with that!” he wrote.
Hroub argued that Arab and Muslim
countries only opened their pockets and responded to catastrophes and
natural disasters when the victims were themselves Muslim.
“The Islamic charities are absent
from these kind of catastrophes in a way that’s scandalous,”
“With the exception of a few very
symbolic charity organizations and other semi-governmental
organizations in Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon, these
organizations’ calls to duty end with helping other Muslims alone.
It’s as though these organization only respond to the pain of
Muslims and the pain of non-Muslims does not deserve a response.”
Alani argued that geography also played
a part in Arab world charity.
“Regionally they are very active in
giving this sort of help. They feel they are not under obligation to
go beyond that. Haiti is not part of the region. It’s a
humanitarian issue, but the people here in the region have no links
to the people in Haiti,” Alani said.
Alani rejects the notion that Arab
countries are not being generous on account of the fact that the
victims are non-Muslim.
“I don’t think this is a question
of religion but a question of geography and cultural links - we’re
missing both of those here with the question of Haiti,” he said.
“We’re giving help to the
international community but those people have to understand, we have
other commitments as well and the economic situation in the region is
not that great. I think we have to do this in a balanced manner. We
give help, but this help shouldn’t be a huge amount of money when
we have our own problems – we have the Palestinian refugees, the
Yemeni problems, Pakistan and Afghanis and the Iraqi refugees. I’m
not against giving but it has to be measured.”
Hroub does not fully agree with this
argument, especially when comparing the scope of the disaster in
Haiti with the situation in Gaza.
“Some people say that Arab aid should
be allocated to Gaza and its people, who are closed in on all sides,
instead of giving it to Haiti,” he writes.
“This is poor logic,” he concludes.
“The siege on Gaza and the part that Arabs play in its perpetuation
is a shameful outrage. The suffering of hundreds of thousands of
Gazans under the Israeli and Western siege is a disgrace for Arab
officials…but our solidarity with this must not come on account of
our solidarity with catastrophes that other people are facing,
especially when their disaster is far worse than ours. If you compare
the numbers, there are more than 130 dead in the Haiti earthquake for
every Palestinian who died in the Gaza war. And there are more than
200 homes that the earthquake destroyed for every home that the
Israelis destroyed in Gaza. My intention here is by no means to
diminish the suffering of the Gazans but rather to open our eyes to
disasters that afflict other people, so that we don’t wallow in
pathological narcissism that takes delight in playing victim.”
Dr. Ayed Yaghi, director of the
Gaza-based charity Medical Relief, agreed that the Gazans should not
take precedence over victims of other disasters.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis and I
think not only Arab countries but all the countries must donate
towards Haiti and not to compare it with Gaza’s crisis or
suffering,” he told The Media Line. “A human is a human all over
the world and not just in Gaza or in Haiti. I understand, Arab
countries must help Gazan people, but at the same time they must also
assist people in Haiti.”