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Arab Press Blasts Gulf Rulers on Syrian Refugee Crisis

Volunteers distribute food and drinks to migrants who arrived at Malmo train station in Sweden on the morning of Sept. 10, 2015.
Volunteers distribute food and drinks to migrants who arrived at Malmo train station in Sweden on the morning of Sept. 10, 2015.

Gulf rulers are coming under unusually sharp criticism from the region’s media for not doing more to help with the Middle East refugee crisis and for not formally admitting Syrians fleeing their war-shattered country.

Most of the criticism is from media outlets not owned by state authorities, with Qatar’s English-language Gulf Times leading the way.

It noted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been nicknamed “Mama Merkel” by Syrian refugees for her decision to admit more of them into Germany than any other country. And the paper last week scorned “the cash-rich Gulf countries” for not issuing a collective statement on the crisis and for not “coming up with a strategy to help the migrants who are overwhelmingly Muslim.”

It accused the region’s rulers of displaying indifference to the plight of Syrian refugees.

No Syrian refugees have been formally resettled in Persian Gulf states like Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, although Gulf officials say some Syrians have entered on visitor visas and just stayed on. Rights groups point out that those who have been allowed to remain come from wealthy and powerful families.

“In this part of the world the silence is deafening” on the Syrian refugee crisis, the Gulf Times noted. The paper is traditionally more outspoken than other privately owned media outlets in the region despite the fact that its publisher, Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, is a former Qatari deputy prime minister and former head of the emirate’s court.

But newspapers in the emirate even closer to the emirate’s ruling Al-Thani family are also running opinion pieces by columnists who are not mincing their words about the Gulf’s less than generous response to the refugee crisis.

The Arab-language Al-Sharq newspaper ran an article on September 3 by columnist Ali Al-Rashid, who argued, “The Arab and Islamic states, their governments and peoples, bear no small share of the responsibility for the situation of the Syrians and for their ongoing exodus to Europe.”

He noted that refugees are moving to Europe because of the constraints imposed on them by Syria’s neighboring countries - Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon - where they are restricted from working and all too often have no access to education and health care services.

Officials in the Gulf States - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE - insist they are not indifferent to the fate of Syrians feeling the four-year-long civil war, arguing that they have donated substantial sums to the United Nations to help meet the emergency needs of the refugees. The Gulf nations have given more than $500 million over the past two years, according to the United Nations. After the United States and Britain, Kuwait has given the most -- more than $574 million, or 31 percent of the aid donated.

But Ali Sa'd Al-Moussa, in a column for the Saudi government-owned daily Al Watan, says that donating to the U.N. emergency fund is not enough.

“Europe is now home to 11 million Arab immigrants... who have attained rights and have a prospect of receiving citizenship, equality and justice under the law - all the things whose absence drove them to flee their Arab countries of origin,” he wrote. “Stop talking about the hypocrisy of [Western] morals and values, because reality exposes nothing but our own ugly countenance.”

The editor of the Iraqi daily Al-Mada, Adnan Hussein, concurs. In a recent article, he praised the “humane European approach” - especially when it comes to Germany’s welcoming response, and has called for a “velvet revolution” in Arab countries to change their way of thinking.

“The peoples and several governments in Europe, especially Germany and Austria, cordially welcomed the flood of refugees into their countries, and in our countries their humanitarian approach evoked a storm of bewilderment over the European morality, along with fury over the moral [standards] of our own Arab and Islamic societies and governments that showed no interest in the disaster of the Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan and other refugees,” he argued.

But not all the Arab press is aiming its anger at the Gulf. Some outlets and commentators see the root of the problem resting with the West and Iran, arguing they are to blame for the crisis - Iran because it has shored up longtime ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and the West for its failure to oust him.

Writing in the London-based Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Saudi journalist Mshari Al-Zaydi, says the refugee crisis is a consequence of the West’s neglect of the Syrian disaster. “The main cause of this tragedy is the indecisiveness of the U.S. administration from the very beginning, and its failure to listen and to genuinely cooperate with the countries that wanted to solve the problem at an early stage and which explicitly warned of these consequences.”