Contrasting the opulence and indifference in the Gulf

Abu Dhabi will host the 19th and final Grand Prix of the 2015 Formula 1 season in November. Earlier in April, Bahrain hosted the 4th Grand Prix of the season. Qatar, with the highest GDP per capita in the world, and where 14% of households are dollar millionaires, is preparing to host the football World Cup in 2022. A dozen multi-billion dollar stadiums are at various stages of completion. In Dubai, the Dubailand Resort is under construction. Covering 278km2 (twice the size of Disney World Resort!) and projected to cost USD 64.3 billion, it will be the world’s largest retail and entertainment resort when completed. And this is in a city where some of the world’s tallest and most iconic buildings already jut into the skyline. Dubai is powered by one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with a GDP of USD 107.1 billion and an estimated growth rate of 6.1% in 2014. All over the Arab States of the Gulf, petrodollars have built literal paradises on formerly arid territories, creating new tourism havens that draw tens of millions of fun-seekers and shoppers annually from around the world.

If the Gulf is the new heaven, then the new hell is currently located about 2,500 kilometers north-west of Dubai. This location, also called Syria, has witnessed some of the worst human suffering in the history of mankind. I cannot think of another conflict in recent history where so many different armed groups have fought themselves with such ferocity. Death, destruction, abductions, rape, trafficking and pillaging have followed as expected. But perhaps the worst calamity of this so-called civil war has been the massive flow of refugees: large multitudes of Syrian beings escaping in boatloads, truckloads, on foot; to every other corner of the earth that holds some hope. Thousands of them have been drowned, starved to death or died of exhaustion. Those remaining are stuck at various borders, mostly European, begging for asylum.

Last week, as I watched Macedonian border guards on TV trying to hold their lines against a swarming army of these refugees hell-bent on entering Europe – a truly depressing and heartbreaking sight – it suddenly occurred to me that there were Arab countries richer than many nations of Europe. Where, in God’s name, are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE in all this? How many suffering Arab refugees have these opulent Arab nations of the Gulf opened their borders to?

Syrian refugees stuck at the Greece/Macedonia border. Photo credit: Reuters
Syrian refugees stuck at the Greece/Macedonia border. Photo credit: Reuters

I consulted UNHCR statistics. Of the 4 million-plus registered Syrian refugees, over 90% are being sheltered between Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Egypt and Germany host over a 100,000 each, while European nations like Sweden, Austria, Italy and Bulgaria also host as much as 70,000 between them. Even Latin American countries like Argentina, Columbia and Uruguay, also house a few hundreds. And how many are hosted by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE? Zero. Zilch. It is not just that they have not admitted any refugees. They have refused to pledge to do so any time in the near future. It is too shocking to believe, but it is true. Speaking on the situation, a spokesman for Amnesty International, Sherif Elsayed-Ali described the silence from the Gulf as ‘particularly shameful’. According to him, “linguistic and religious ties should place the Gulf states at the forefront of those offering safe shelter.”

What has shocked me even more is that the international media and community have not done more to call out these Gulf nations and their citizens, who carry on with their high-octane lives while their very brothers die not too far from them. There has instead been an unfair and unjustified pressure on Europe to absorb these Syrian sufferers – including from Qatar-owned Al Jazeera! While European nations have a responsibility by the 1951 Refugee Convention to accept and protect Arab and other refugees knocking on their doors, questions should be asked of Arab nations richer than many of their European counterparts who have created a huge emotional gulf between themselves and their own brothers. This indifference also stigmatizes the poor refugees; for if their own Arab brothers will not accept them, it then appears as though it is because these rich brothers know something about these refugees that the rest of us do not; something that perhaps Europe and the rest of the world need to be wary of.

As I write, pictures of smiling Gulf princes sitting in their Lamborghinis and Porsches, beside their pet lions and cheetahs, are still on the social network profiles of these princes. Their yachts are still parked in glitzy marinas around the world; while they fight to surpass one another in purchasing top-notch European football clubs and shopping malls. Abu Dhabi is still preparing for that 19th Grand Prix, and the multi-billion dollar work at the Qatari stadiums and Dubailand is still ongoing. And Syrian refugees are still begging at the borders of Malta. Macedonia. Greece. Germany. Austria. Hungary. Sweden. Norway.

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