Arab charity is blooming – no thanks to America
Why doesn't the country that invented modern philanthropy do more to support it in the Middle East?
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During the Dubai conference, a Saudi businessman complained that American investigators met with him 11 times over the past several years to examine his donations. No explanation was given, he said, and there was no official framework to make complaints.Skip to next paragraph
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Such scrutiny causes donors to keep quiet about their giving, says the Gerhart report. And because people are more likely to donate if they have role models, below-the-radar efforts hurt philanthropy.
Aside from government scrutiny of giving, Arab philanthropy has also been criticized because it simply may come from a donor with a different viewpoint from the recipient's.
In 2001, Rudolph Giuliani rejected a $10 million gift from Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud to help victims of terrorist attacks.
We can debate Mr. Giuliani's reasons – he disliked the prince's suggestion that American policy in Israel spurred the Sept. 11 attack – but the message to Arab philanthropists was clear: Your money's no good here.
But a focus only on cracking down on illegal gifts hurts the region, conference participants said.
Why doesn't the country that invented modern philanthropy do more to support it in the Middle East? Why not help Arab nations implement better nonprofit laws that promote, as well as regulate, giving?
The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, for instance, is providing college scholarships for Arab students to attend Ivy League schools in America. Speaking of Arab teenagers, Nabil Ali Alyousuf, acting chief executive of the Al Maktoum Foundation, put it best: "We either educate them or we leave them to poverty, no education, and potential extremism."
As a reporter, I have seen what philanthropy and charities can accomplish in disaster-ridden areas like Sri Lanka after the tsunami and in post-Katrina New Orleans. Perhaps a similar humanitarian spirit can generate home-grown solutions in the Arab world.