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Arab charity is blooming – no thanks to America

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The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation will focus its largess on bolstering education, supporting entrepreneurship, and fostering cultural understanding by translating both classic and modern Arabic books into English and other languages.

But to get organized and be effective aren't easy tasks. Most Arabic nations have murky laws governing nonprofits and charitable giving; support for human rights and democracy is often a taboo subject, and, not least of all, American policy is an obstacle.

Since Sept. 11, the US has viewed Arab donors with a suspicious eye, accusing them of using their money to fund or terrorist training camps. After the attacks, for example, US officials pressured Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to set up rules that restrict charitable giving.

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.

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.

When Warren Buffett publicly pledged most of his fortune to The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006, he inspired other gifts to the fund, including the $35 "life savings" of a 7-year-old.

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.

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