Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:27 pm (KSA) 09:27 am (GMT)

Does Wealth Belong to the State or the Ummah?

Mshari Al-Zaydi

On August 2, 2008, ‘Al-Quds Al-Arabi’ newspaper published statements made by the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) General Guide in Jordan, Hammam Said, in which he called upon the Gulf oil states to provide financial assistance to the hungry and deprived among Muslims.
Said addressed the Gulf States and stated that they should, “Take God’s equity as an example and distribute their money to the hungry and deprived among Muslims who do not have bread to eat or water to drink or fuel for heating or electricity when in fact they are not too far from the sources of this oil wealth.”

He added that, “It is a nation’s right that its rulers should share the country’s wealth and resources – even if only to provide the bare minimum to feed people.”

A few months prior to that, the media circulated a fatwa [religious edict] that was issued by Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy that called for a 20 percent tax on oil revenues since it complies with Rikaz* Zakat (almsgiving) under jurisprudential rulings. Shortly before that, Egyptian Islamic thinker, Mohammed Imara called for the establishment of an Islamic fund for Zakat Rikaz so that the most poverty-stricken among the Islamic states can benefit from it on the one hand, and so that such states can avoid having to conform to the ‘oppressive’ conditions that some international monetary institutions impose.

The common sentiment behind these calls and others in the same vein, in addition to the act of imbuing such calls with a jurisprudential hue, is the sense that a group from the Ummah has usurped a portion of the money without sharing it with the rest of the nation – which of course is deemed reprehensible behavior that does not befit the conduct of the members of the Ummah. In this view, such behavior deserves blame – if not anger – while the culprits are guilty of vice and the absenting of the communal spirit of the Ummah, according to Hammam Said.

But this belief is not exclusive to the MB or Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy alone; it is a public and palpable sentiment among the Arabs who are not citizens of the Gulf States – I do not mean the states that have no oil wealth since we know that the Gulf States are shunned and criticized by other oil-rich states that depend on oil in their economies, such as Libya for example!

Moreover, it is a sentiment that plays upon the concealed racism among Arabs since how can fate decree that the arid desert dwellers who have no culture or civilization to speak of and who did not invent the Phoenician alphabet or the Sumerian wheel or the Egyptian obelisk end up where they are? They have not lived by the banks of the eternal rivers or sailed the Mediterranean but rather were obscured and forgotten – but then just like that, these Philistines now have money, high standing and businesses, how can this be?!

Herein, at this meeting point, the Islamic intersects with the secular and the Muslim with the Christian to eye that oil with an unblinking gaze whilst spontaneously feeling that this accursed oil wealth should not be left to those states alone and that it must be shared in some way or another since it is ‘Arab oil’ not oil that belongs to the ‘state’ of Kuwait or the Saudi ‘state’ or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ‘state’. And yet, these are all states that from a legal standpoint are fully sovereign states over their land, wealth and capabilities and they solely reserve the right to do with it what they please. If such states decide to offer assistance, loans or relief then these are sovereign decisions that are either intended for political reconciliation or are an answer to a humanitarian call or a specific type of assistance and not because it is a natural course of action or because it is the way things should be – because it is not.

Conversely, what if a country such as Jordan, which suffers from water shortage, were to demand a share of Egypt’s Nile, using the same “taking God’s equity as an example” to support its demand? Or, what if an underprivileged country such as Mauritania were to demand that Libya share a portion of its oil, which belongs to the whole nation?

Frequently, because of the protean nature of the concept of the ‘nationalist state’ and by virtue of the hypocrisy or ideological conviction among some intellectuals in the Gulf, in addition to their fear and desire to flatter some of the Gulf governments, an obscurity surrounds the act of indicating that the wealth of nations belongs to them alone – or that it should. It is theirs to be expended on internal development and raising the standard of living, education, medical- and other- services for the people of a given nation. This should be an ongoing endeavor until the Gulf people build themselves to confront the tsunami of hardships that come with modernity.

Moreover, this expenditure of money abroad must be beneficial to states, politically, economically, or for [strategic] protection, so as to extinguish the flames [of conflicts] before they reach the Gulf States. This is a normal course of action and we should not condemn it since the age-old drive behind politics has always been interest – not emotive pleasantries and slogans that deceive the public.

In the midst of this oil boom, the Gulf States are suffering as well; it is wrong to believe the inaccurate picture that some Arabs depict of the people of the Gulf States walking around with wads of cash falling out of their pockets and that they live in affluence and prosperity. This is a naive and detrimental depiction when in fact many citizens of the Gulf States have complained of power cuts in the midst of the sweltering heat, such as the case in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Indeed, it is not only the problem of power shortages but also problems related to unemployment and admission into universities. Moreover, there are crises as a result of inflation in prices, commodities and services. Don’t some of the impoverished people in Saudi live in scrap wood and corrugated metal makeshift houses? Don’t some families in Kuwait depend on the philanthropy of others?

They, too, are nations that have their share of survival problems like other countries; in fact, with the increased awareness, the openness in media and the population explosion, many in the Gulf States have a lot to say about the economic and development situations in their country while others criticize the reliance on external support and call for increased internal output.

This is despite the fact that states like Saudi Arabia, in particular, but also Kuwait, the UAE and even Qatar, have expended significant amounts on Arab countries like Lebanon to help ease it out if its eternal predicament whilst restraining the hands of its leaders to prevent them from fighting – but it was to no avail. In fact, a prominent Lebanese oppositional figure who is renowned for his ability to resolve crises was recently quoted saying that they were in need of more Arab financial assistance than they were in need of him!

How much have the Gulf States spent on Lebanon and the Palestinian cause alone? And yet it has not amounted to any good, on the contrary, many of the ‘brothers’ ate their share – and I’m not saying all of them – but some did and then cursed their benefactors and returned to their favored pastimes of chanting about the cause and insulting the weak among the Arabs.

In any case, spending money abroad to help resolve crises or problems is necessary and an integral part of the requirements for comprehensive national security – there’s no question about it. However, the real problem lies in the slogan game and the extortion; that demagogic dimension of propaganda practiced by some who have benefited from this money rather than allocating it to the destitute masses who were betrayed by their brothers that ignored the cause and left them in obscurity.

Every state is responsible for itself and no one can question it about its wealth except for its own citizens, as for the rest; they should refrain from automatically making themselves partners in the wealth of others that they have no stake in. However, equally, the Gulf States should not make the resources, water, history and civilization of its fellow Arab states their own simply because they are all Arabs and Muslims as well.

* An Islamic jurisprudential ruling that dictates that Muslims are required to give one-fifth (20 percent) of unearthed buried precious metals or minerals and other natural resources and treasures for Zakat charity.



*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on August 14, 2008. Mshari Al-Zaydi is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page Editor and an expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs.

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