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Study Warns of Stagnation in Arab Societies

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 677 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... STUDY WARNS OF STAGNATION IN ARAB SOCIETIES By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2002
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      By Barbara Crossette
      New York Times
      July 2, 2002


      A blunt new report by Arab intellectuals commissioned by the United Nations
      warns that Arab societies are being crippled by a lack of political freedom,
      the repression of women and an isolation from the world of ideas that
      stifles creativity.

      The survey, the Arab Human Development Report 2002, will be released today
      in Cairo.

      The report notes that while oil income has transformed the landscapes of
      some Arab countries, the region remains "richer than it is developed." Per
      capita income growth has shrunk in the last 20 years to a level just above
      that of sub-Saharan Africa. Productivity is declining. Research and
      development are weak or nonexistent. Science and technology are dormant.

      Intellectuals flee a stultifying ‹ if not repressive -- political and social
      environment, it says.

      Arab women, the report found, are almost universally denied advancement.
      Half of them still cannot read or write. The maternal mortality rate is
      double that of Latin America and four times that of East Asia.

      "Sadly, the Arab world is largely depriving itself of the creativity and
      productivity of half its citizens," the report concluded.

      An advisory team of well-known Arabs in international public life was
      assembled to oversee the study. They included Thoraya Obaid, a Saudi who is
      executive director of the United Nations Population Fund; Mervat Tallawy, an
      Egyptian diplomat who heads the Economic and Social Council for West Asia;
      and Clovis Maksoud, who directs the Center for the Global South at American
      University in Washington and was formerly the Arab League's representative
      at the United Nations.

      A team of nearly 30 authorities in various fields, including sociologists,
      economists and experts on Arab culture presented papers. A core group drawn
      from these authors and representing a wide variety of Middle Eastern and
      Arab majority African nations then completed the report.

      Nader Fergany, a labor economist and director of the Almishkat Center for
      Research in Egypt, was chosen as the lead author. The report was published
      in Arabic, English and French, with an editorial team in each language.
      Women were represented at all stages of the formulation and writing of the

      Planning for the report "started over a year ago, when we thought that there
      was a serious development problem in the Arab countries," Rima Khalaf
      Hunaidi, director of the United Nations Development Program's Arab regional
      bureau and the driving force behind the survey, said in an interview in her
      New York office. "There were some very scary signals that were specific to
      Arab countries and not other regions."

      Then came the attacks on the United States, giving the report unexpected new
      relevance as explanations for Arab anger against the West are being sought.

      The report, the first United Nations human development report devoted to a
      single region, was prepared by Arab intellectuals from a variety of
      disciplines, who do not fault others for what they see as the "deficits" in
      contemporary Arab culture, Ms. Khalaf Hunaidi said.

      Ms. Khalaf Hunaidi, 49, a former deputy prime minister of Jordan who led its
      economic policy team, said that she had asked the authors, "to come and look
      at this problem and decide: Why is Arab culture, why are Arab countries
      lagging behind?"

      "It's not outsiders looking at Arab countries," she said. "It's Arabs
      deciding for themselves."

      There are 280 million people in the 22 Arab countries covered by the report,
      which was co-sponsored by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development,
      a development finance institution set up by members of the Arab League. The
      number of Arabs is expected to grow to between 410 million and 459 million
      by 2020.

      For the Palestinians in particular, the report says, human development is
      all but impossible under Israeli occupation. Moreover, the
      Israeli-Palestinian conflict "has been a cause and a pretext for delaying
      democratic change," contended Ms. Khalaf Hunaidi, who was born in Kuwait to
      Palestinian parents. She studied at the American University of Beirut and
      Portland State University in Oregon, where she received a doctorate in
      systems science.

      The report does not directly criticize Islamic militancy and its effects on
      intellectual and economic growth, although Ms. Khalaf Hunaidi said this was
      implicit in passages that refer to a less tolerant social environment.

      Despite growing populations, the standard of living in Arab countries on the
      whole has advanced considerably. Life expectancy is longer than the world
      average of 67 years, the report noted. The level of abject poverty is the
      world's lowest. Education spending is higher than elsewhere in the
      developing world.

      But the use of the Internet is low. Filmmaking appears to be declining. The
      authors also describe a "severe shortage" of new writing and a dearth of
      translations of works from outside. "The whole Arab world translates about
      330 books annually, one-fifth the number that Greece translates," the report
      said. In the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, it concludes,
      the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in just one

      Laila Abou-Saif, an Egyptian writer and theater director whose theater in
      Cairo was closed in 1979 after she produced a play that satirized polygamy,
      said in an interview that the Islamic factor must be acknowledged in
      explaining the condition of the Arab world, which was a center of arts and

      Ms. Abou-Saif, a Coptic Christian who now lives in the United States, said
      that creativity among Arabs now often hewed to religious themes.

      Books are not being translated, in part because of Islamic pressures, said
      Ms. Abou-Saif, the author of "Middle East Journal: A Woman's Journey Into
      the Heart of the Arab World" (Scribner, 1990). "A whole gamut of religious
      literature are best sellers," she said.

      Fouad Ajami, director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University and
      the author, most recently, of "The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's
      Odyssey" (Vintage Books, 1999) said in an interview that there is a
      pervasive sense that life in the Arab world is repressed by both the state
      and religious vigilantes.

      "Arabs today feel monitored," he said, attributing a decrease in
      intellectual freedom to the growing power of a lower middle class whose
      members are literate but not broadly educated.

      This group shows "its lack of hospitality to anyone of free spirit, anyone
      who is a dissident, anyone who is different," he said.

      Mr. Ajami said that for many Arab intellectuals the only option has been
      exile. "There is a deep, deep nostalgia today in the Arab world," he said.
      "Societies looking ahead and feeling a positive movement never succumb to

      Above all, there is no movement in politics, he said. Rulers, even elected,
      stay in power for life and create dynasties. "People just don't know how to
      overthrow, how to reform, how to change them."


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