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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Is the Arab World Stingy?

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2005; 9:30 AM

Now the leaders of the Arab world are being called the S-word.

Two weeks after a U.N. official said Western countries were "stingy" when it came to helping poor countries, online commentators from Algeria to Kuwait to Malaysia, are accusing oil-rich Arab states of being tightfisted with aid to victims of the South Asia tsunami. In the face of such criticism, several governments have already boosted their donations.

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With Japan and Germany now pledging $650 million and $500 million respectively and with the United States promising $350 million and providing crucial supply helicopters, international pundits are chiding the fabulously wealthy royal families of the Middle East for not doing more. One Algerian daily goes so far as to say the parsimonious response is a sign of Arab cultural failure.

"Oil-rich Gulf Arab states, home to millions of Asian workers, have so far pledged a mere $70 million dollars to victims of the Asian tsunami disaster despite reaping seven times as much in crude revenues daily," said London-based Middle East Online last week.

"Many Arab media commentators are harshly critical of the governments of rich Arab states because of their stingy response to the tsunami catastrophe," reported AsiaNews, a Vatican news service. By the weekend, Arab pledges had risen substantially, the site noted but still only constituted a small fraction of the world total.

"Although their development was largely made possible by an influx of millions of Asian workers, the [Arab oil producers] have thus far donated $113 million in aid out of a total of $ 3.7 billion pledged by the international community," AsiaNews reported.

"Oil-rich Gulf countries have promised considerably less" for tsunami recovery than the U.S. pledge of $350 million, reported Trevor Royle of Glasgow's Sunday Herald. He noted that the pledges of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait were dwarfed by the countries' collective oil revenue of $500 million a day.

In Malaysia, an Islamic political leader scored the "cold and indifferent" stance of the oil producing countries.

"Kuwait, which is running a $10 billion budget surplus and recently distributed $700 million to its citizens following a hike in oil prices, only offered $10 million in tsunami aid, said Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the Democratic Action Party.

In the Persian Gulf countries themselves, Aljazeera.com , Web site of the Arab news channel, reported that only the Kuwaiti media "stuck its neck out to criticize the governments' performance."

"Let's admit that Kuwait's donation was too small compared to its humanitarian status and the size of the catastrophe," Nabil al-Fadhel wrote last week in the Kuwaiti newspaper, al-Rai al-Aam (in Arabic). Another commentator wrote in the daily As-Siyassah that Kuwait's $10 million pledge is "still is a humble amount compared to the magnitude of the catastrophe."

On Sunday Kuwait announced it was boosting its $10 million pledge to $100 million, according to Channel News Asia in Singapore.

In Saudi Arabia's Arab News , columnist Abeer Mishkhas said tsunami relief had not struck the same emotional chord among Saudis as more political causes.

"In the past I remember the huge amounts of money raised for Afghan fighters, and all those fund raising parties where women gave money and even took off their jewelry and donated them. . . . I recall all the donation campaigns to help Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Somehow the effort this time is not as active."

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