Arab Aid to Haiti – Shameful?

UPDATE: Saudi Arabia will be donating $50 million to the Haiti relief effort.  The aid will be directed through the UN.[tweetmeme]

In Al-Hayyat, Khalid Hroub, a Palestinian academic at Cambridge University, wrote a scathing article in which he says that it is “an outrage” that wealthy Arab countries are not sending more aid to the relief effort in Haiti.  Hroub writes that the media in the Arab world has done little to help foster sympathy and feelings of solidarity, noting:

“Following the news coverage of the earthquake in the first days, the news ofthe 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 providesecurity, more than reports about the hundreds of thousands of those afflicted who were sleeping in the streets.”

Although Hroub called out non-Muslim and non-Arab countries as well (such as China, Russia and Venezuela), he focused his ire on the Middle East.  Mustafa Alani, a program director at the Gulf Research Center, hypothesized that the general feelings of wealthy Arab countries are regionally influenced, that it, they feel as though they are more responsible for giving aid to those in need in the Middle East.

The Jerusalem Post coverage of the article ends with Hroub comparing the situation in Haiti with the one 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.

To be sure there are some major disappointments in the Middle East when it comes to helping Haiti.  The most conspicuous absence comes from Saudi Arabia which, for a country with as much oil as it has, is completely inexcusable.  However, there are three major problems with the article – or rather two problems with Hroub’s argument and one with JPost‘s coverage.

To start with Jpost, the original article in Al-Hayyat was stressing that wealthy Arab states should be donating more.  This is probably true.  There is a lot of money in the Gulf that could be used in Haiti.  However, the Jpost uses the word ‘wealthy’ exactly once, making it seem as though Hroub was chastising the lack of aid from all Arabs.  As will be noted below, even the poorest of Arab countries have donated what they can.  It is shameful that the wealthiest states did not donate more, but to criticize the entire Arab population by distorting an article is also shameful.

As for Hroub, he is correct in that Saudi Arabia and Iran have not committed much aid.  Indeed, those who have given could probably give more.  But we cannot pretend that the Arab world has been completely without compassion.  As the Majlis wrote a while ago, Arab aid has been pretty universal. Occupied West Bank has donated to Haiti and even Gaza – the strip in which one in five people are in abject poverty – has been running charity drives (the problem, of course, is that Israel will not allow the donations out of Haiti).  Furthermore Islamic charities such as Islamic Relief, the Islamic Medical Association and the Islamic Society of North America have also set up charities.

Lastly, Hroub’s comparison of Haiti and Gaza is a bit misleading.  Arguing that Arab’s care more about Gaza than Haiti because it is a regional issue may be correct, but it implies that the Arab world is donating large sums to help Gaza while leaving Haiti alone.  It has been shown that the Arab and Muslim world are not disregarding Haiti, but Gaza does not receive the financial support that Hroub implies.  The Palestinian cause is one that creates sympathy across the Muslim world, but material donations to the strip are nearly zero.  This, of course, can be partly blamed on the Israeli blockade of the strip, but the cause does not justify poor comparisons.

The crisis in Haiti is tragic and those reading who have not donated should seriously consider helping.  Perhaps Hroub can justifiably point his finger at KSA or Iran, but it is unhelpful and insulting to make statements that blanket the entire Arab world when some are doing what they can to help those in need.

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