Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 18 August 2005

Arabian Shame


Washington Post Editorial - Page A18

Aug 12, 2005 (Washington) — Some remain skeptical of President Bush’s concern for Africa, and there’s no doubt that the United States could and should do more. But the latest report on Sudan from the United Nations offers a snapshot of an issue on which Mr. Bush has been a leader. So far this year the United States has given $468 million in foreign assistance to Sudan, mostly for humanitarian relief in the western region of Darfur. The U.S. contribution comes to 53 percent of all outside donations — a proportion about twice the size of the nation’s weight in the global economy.

A few other countries have been even more generous relative to the size of their economies, notably Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Britain. But the contribution from many others has been embarrassing. How can France, which prides itself on its leadership in Africa, give only $2 million to this year’s U.N. appeal for Sudan — an amount that, when rounded, comes to zero percent of total contributions to the country? Even if one generously ascribed, say, a fifth of the European Union’s donation of $90 million to French taxpayers, France’s share of the total contribution to Sudan comes to a paltry 2 percent.

There are plenty of other culprits. Japan accounts for just 2 percent of total contributions despite the size of its economy; China has made no contribution to the U.N. effort, even though it has extensive investments in Sudan’s oil sector. But perhaps the most striking absentees are the oil-rich Arab countries, which have more money than ideas on how to spend it, thanks to oil prices above $60 a barrel. Saudi Arabia has contributed a grand total of $3 million, according to the U.N. data; the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have given less than $1 million between them. No other Arab country even makes the list.

This Arab indifference is shameful. The victims of Sudan’s worst crisis, in Darfur, are Muslim, and aid to non-Muslim southern Sudan is essential to shoring up the fragile north-south peace deal that would help Muslims as well. Sudan borders Libya and Egypt; only the narrow Red Sea separates it from Saudi Arabia. Arabs have every reason to care about Sudan, and yet they have done far less than remote non-Muslim countries such as Norway, which has an economy roughly the same size as Saudi Arabia’s.

Writing on the opposite page last month, Joseph Britt noted, "We’ve heard a lot since Sept. 11, 2001, about how Arabs feel humiliated, ashamed, resentful at being regarded by the West as inferior in some way." Mr. Britt continued: "Perhaps it is time to say plainly that the way to earn respect is through deeds worthy of respect."

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