'Arabs Not Giving Enough to Haiti'

Commentator says Arab countries should be ashamed.

haiti survivors 311 (photo credit: E.B. Solomont)
haiti survivors 311
(photo credit: E.B. Solomont)
A commentator in an influential Arabic language paper says 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 earthquake in the first days, the news of the earthquake and its aftermath soon faded out," he continues. "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 economic sense.
"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 Line.
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 killed 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," Hroub wrote.
"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 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."