A commentator in an influential Arabiclanguage paper said it is “an outrage, in every sense of the word”that wealthy Arab countries are not giving more money to help victimsof the earthquake in Haiti.
In an opinion piece published in theinfluential London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayyat, Khaled Hroub,a Palestinian academic at Cambridge University, wrote that whilemillions are being wasted in the Arab world on trivial matters, Arabshave failed to contribute respectable amounts of financial assistancein the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
“Even the Arab media, both print andtelevised, are not giving this catastrophe enough attention to bringit home for public opinion and strengthen feelings of humansolidarity,” Hroub wrote.
“Following the news coverage of the the first days of the tragedy, the news of the earthquake and itsaftermath soon faded out,” he continued. “We began reading abouthow the United States ‘occupied’ Haiti through military forcesthat were sent there to protect the airport, facilitate the aid andprovide security, more than reports about the hundreds of thousandsof those afflicted who were sleeping in the streets.”
Hroub referred to a comparison of thepledges of aid by countries and organizations all over the worldpublished in The Guardian. The British newspaper claimed thatUnited States has pledged the most money, amounting to around $160million, followed by Canada and the World Bank.
No Arab countries were listed among thetop 20 donor countries and organizations in The Guardian’slist. The first appearance of an Arab nation is the United ArabEmirates, ranking in 23rd place.
But some argue that even if this istrue, the Arab world’s response is not unreasonable, and makeseconomic sense.
“The feeling here in the region isthat these states are already giving a lot,” Dr. Mustafa Alani,research program director at the Gulf Research Center told The MediaLine.
Still, Hroub was not alone in noticingthe absence of Arab states from the top of the list, with severalreaders engaging in some ‘naming and shaming’.
“I don't see anypledges from the rich oil producing Middle East countries,” onereader wrote in a talkback. “So much for partnership and reachingacross... It seems to me the Western world always reaches out.”
Hroub also criticized non-Muslimnations such as Venezuela, Cuba, China and Russia, all of which heaccused of sending minimal amounts of aid.
Hroub said that despite a deadly 2003earthquake in Bam, Iran, in which more than 26,000 people werekilled, Iran only sent a symbolic contribution to Haiti.
“We don’t know how [IranianPresident Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad wants to confront the Americanarrogance throughout the world with that!” he wrote.
Hroub argued that Arab and Muslimcountries only opened their pockets and responded to catastrophes andnatural disasters when the victims were themselves Muslim.
“The Islamic charities are absentfrom these kind of catastrophes in a way that’s scandalous,”Hroub wrote.
“With the exception of a few verysymbolic charity organizations and other semi-governmentalorganizations in Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Lebanon, theseorganizations’ calls to duty end with helping other Muslims alone.It’s as though these organization only respond to the pain ofMuslims and the pain of non-Muslims does not deserve a response.”
Alani argued that geography also playeda part in Arab world charity.
“Regionally they are very active ingiving this sort of help. They feel they are not under obligation togo beyond that. Haiti is not part of the region. It’s ahumanitarian issue, but the people here in the region have no linksto the people in Haiti,” Alani said.
Alani rejects the notion that Arabcountries are not being generous on account of the fact that thevictims are non-Muslim.
“I don’t think this is a questionof religion but a question of geography and cultural links - we’remissing both of those here with the question of Haiti,” he said.
“We’re giving help to theinternational community but those people have to understand, we haveother commitments as well and the economic situation in the region isnot that great. I think we have to do this in a balanced manner. Wegive help, but this help shouldn’t be a huge amount of money whenwe have our own problems – we have the Palestinian refugees, theYemeni problems, Pakistan and Afghanis and the Iraqi refugees. I’mnot against giving but it has to be measured.”
Hroub does not fully agree with thisargument, especially when comparing the scope of the disaster inHaiti with the situation in Gaza.
“Some people say that Arab aid shouldbe 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 perpetuationis a shameful outrage. The suffering of hundreds of thousands ofGazans under the Israeli and Western siege is a disgrace for Arabofficials…but our solidarity with this must not come on account ofour solidarity with catastrophes that other people are facing,especially when their disaster is far worse than ours. If you comparethe numbers, there are more than 130 dead in the Haiti earthquake forevery Palestinian who died in the Gaza war. And there are more than200 homes that the earthquake destroyed for every home that theIsraelis destroyed in Gaza. My intention here is by no means todiminish the suffering of the Gazans but rather to open our eyes todisasters that afflict other people, so that we don’t wallow inpathological narcissism that takes delight in playing victim.”
Dr. Ayed Yaghi, director of theGaza-based charity Medical Relief, agreed that the Gazans should nottake precedence over victims of other disasters.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis and Ithink not only Arab countries but all the countries must donatetowards Haiti and not to compare it with Gaza’s crisis orsuffering,” he told The Media Line. “A human is a human all overthe world and not just in Gaza or in Haiti. I understand, Arabcountries must help Gazan people, but at the same time they must alsoassist people in Haiti.”