Charity Begins At Home

Fortunately for all concerned, it seems that a crisis has been averted with the docking of the MV Amalthea in El Arish on Wednesday night. Despite the wide-spread coverage of the potential stand-off between the Israeli Navy and the Libyan-sponsored ship which initially declared its intention to break the blockade on Gaza in much of the world’s print and electronic media, the story does not seem to have been of much interest to the Guardian. Maybe happy endings just don’t pull in the crowds.

The Hamas leadership in Gaza will also most likely be disappointed by the outcome of this event. At a street-naming ceremony  in Gaza for Islamists killed aboard the Mavi Marmara (‘The Martyrs of the Freedom Flotilla Street’ – I’ve heard catchier ones…), Ismail Haniyeh called the Amalthea “our moving hope in the Mediterranean Sea”, urging the ship to continue on its route to Gaza.  The fact is, of course, that the aid carried aboard the Libyan-sponsored ship is negligible, both in terms of amount and content. More humanitarian aid than the ship was carrying enters Gaza every day from Israel, and since the easing of restrictions (except on war-related materials), all claims of need for humanitarian aid have become even less credible than they were before.

Youssef Sawani, the Executive Director of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation which sponsored the Amalthea, claimed that the ship’s mission was neither provocation nor political propaganda.  But, in light of the relaxing of restrictions and the fact that Israel’s naval blockade is meant to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the area, his claims ring rather hollow. As ever, one must look at the bigger picture in order to appreciate the full range of motivations for such a pointless exercise as the Amalthea’s voyage.

The Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation is, of course, the brain child of Moammar Gaddafi’s son and heir Saif Al Islam Gaddafi. One of its trustees  is Chung Hwan Kwak, a prominent leader in the Unification Church.  If a connection between the ‘Moonies’ and an NGO which hardly merits the ‘N’ in the land of the ‘Green Revolution’ seems a strange one, one need look no further than that often levelling common denominator which so frequently makes for strange bedfellows. In Chung Hwan Kwak’s own words:

“Judaism committed a historical sin in front of Jesus, so Jewish people experienced the Holocaust under Hitler. Without God’s permission, would it really have been possible for Hitler to do such a massacre?”

In addition to his “charitable” activities, Saif Al Islam is a very busy chap – exhibiting his own art work on the subject of the Islamic Intifada’ in Moscow‘,  negotiating the release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi (possibly in return for lucrative business deals), running his own architectural agency, supporting Sarkozi’s plans for a Mediterranean Union (“as long as it doesn’t include Israel” ), promoting ‘Isratine’ (a one-state ‘solution’), and gaining a Doctorate from the London School of Economics. The latter institution seems to have made quite an impression upon Gaddafi junior – so much so that his charitable foundation felt the need to donate £1.5 million to this poverty-stricken British hall of learning .

Despite the attempts by Saif Al Islam Gaddafi and others close to his father’s dictatorship to present Libya as a country which has renounced connections with terrorism and now adheres to standards of human rights in line with Western criteria, those who chose to look beyond the rhetoric know that the reality is very different. Libya may well sit on the UN’s Human Rights Council , along with some of the other worst offenders in this field, but recent reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International indicate that “[t]he human rights situation in Libya remains dire”.

An Amnesty Report stated:

“Officials responsible for gross human rights violations remain above the law and enjoy total impunity. On the other hand, thousands of individuals are completely outside the protection of the law and continue to suffer in silence and isolation, seeing little hope in the ‘Libya of tomorrow’, a slogan frequently repeated by Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi.”

Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said:

“If Libya is to have any international credibility, the authorities must ensure that no one is above the law and that everyone, including the most vulnerable and marginalised, is protected by the law.

“The repression of dissent must end. Libya’s international partners cannot ignore Libya’s dire human rights record at the expense of their national interests.”

Tipped by many to be his father’s successor, Saif Al Islam Gaddafi may be managing quite well to keep international criticism of the family firm at a manageable level by displaying limited co-operation with human rights organizations on the one hand, thus presenting a gloss of ‘reform’ and ‘progressiveness’ guaranteed to dazzle Western liberals, and on the other hand making sure that connections with big business remain lucrative for all parties concerned, but what of criticism from home?

Saif Al Islam Gaddafi faces challenges from conservatives and hard-liners within his own country and even his own family,  many of whom are less than enamoured by some of his Western-influenced ideas. Walking the tight-rope between various factions on his by no means certain way to power means that tidbits must be thrown to all sides along the way. What better way to curry favour with the hard-liners than to sponsor an aid ship to Gaza? As many a Middle Eastern leader has already discovered, nothing quells the rumblings of a dissatisfied populace living under the yoke of a totalitarian regime quite like vicious anti-Israel propaganda.

Some international “charity” is designed to do more at home than for its intended overseas recipients.

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