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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Arab oil billionaires criticized in Arabic op-ed

Last month, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet started an initiative where the world's richest people would donate half their fortunes to charity.

They so far signed up some forty super-rich people to join this "Giving Pledge."

Pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds al-Arabi looked at this list and noticed one thing missing: Arabs.

Not only that, but the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, who ridiculed the entire idea, is an Arab - his father was a Maronite Christian.

Here is part of the scathing op-ed:

There is no accurate survey of the number of Arab billionaires and how rich they are, but there are several known names that emerge from time to time in the pages of foreign magazines that care about such things, some of them princes or kings or businessmen, not to mention the tens of thousands of millionaires. But we do know that that most of these are featured in the glossy magazines because their private jets are outfitted with gold faucets or toilets, or their luxury yachts moored in southern France or southern Spain, competing with each other on their length and number of rooms.

Even if they donated some of a few tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, these contributions are always done for PR, in front of an array of cameras that record this great event, and broadcast to dozens of television stations and newspapers that belong to the donor, which were established mostly for this purpose...

There are more wealthy Arabs than rich Americans, yet Westerners set aside a portion of their wealth to charity. Most of the Arab wealth is built up through illegal activities, or they got kickbacks for arms deals of weapons that have never been used...

The vast majority of Arab billionaires made their fortunes because of the massive corruption of the regimes that belong to, and lack of accountability, transparency, and the encroachment of looting public funds, or money laundering, or all of these methods combined.

We hear about the tens of millions were invested in the pornography channels but not about about the establishment or the construction of scientific or humanitarian cultural institutions.

More than half of the Arab world live under the poverty line, on less than two dollars a day, and we saw the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz visited the slums surrounding the city of Riyadh, the capital of the richest oil state in the world, showing misery in the ugliest forms and manifestations, and in a manner can is unbelievable.

If we went to sister Arab countries such as Yemen, which occupies a prominent place on the list of the twenty poorest countries in the world, we find that hunger and disease is the common denominator for the vast majority of citizens, and all they get from their brothers are crumbs.

Meanwhile, foreign billionaires pledge half of their wealth to charity, wealth ways that they earned legitimately as the result of their creativity, and they paid taxes to the coffers of their country, under a strict, transparent accounting system - yet they did not hesitate to commit to helping the needy and the vulnerable not in their country only, but in all around the world, without distinction or discrimination.

Do not begrudge our millionaires, and do not be surprised if we say just the opposite: we feel for them when they live in mansions or yachts or private jets, isolated from humans, in lives of plastic with no taste or smell, surrounded by a group of hypocrites and hangers-on.

We write this essay on the occasion of holy month of Ramadan, the month of mercy and blessing and sacrifice, when we need to help the poor and disadvantaged. We are not preachers, but we are ringing a bell to awaken the public conscience of the sleepers, and remind them of the minimum level of their duties.