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Sunday, April 6, 2003

IRAQ AND THE ARAB WORLD'S FUTURE: Best Journalistic Summary of the UN Arab Human Development Report 2002 on the Home-Grown Causes of Arab Backwardness --- political, economic, and knowledge-based

Hint: It will help, before you look at this crisp, to-the-point summary of the lengthy UN report that came out last year --- written by a group of Arab scholars and intellectuals --- to have looked at the two previous articles published here, one on Thursday and the other yesterday.

The article appeared last July in the outstanding British weekly, The Economist --- a magazine over a 100 years old, which roams widely across US, European, and generally global politics and economics . . . the writing always effectively readable and highly informed (if judgmental as good journalism of this sort is supposed to be), its journalist contributors numbering in the hundreds around the world as part-timers, with a core staff of well-educated professionals. Its sales in the US make it far and away the most important market of the magazine, and believe it or not, a survey a few years ago showed that the average subscriber was not just university-educated but had an average income of over $200,000 a year . . . the buggy prof's income dragging that figure sharply downwards. Available online, you can read about half to two-thirds of the articles with a free registration, but you need either to pay a small sum or be a subscriber to the print edition in order to access all of them.

What follows here is a brief excerpt, within copyright limits I trust, and you should click on the link and read the entire article . . . including the very illuminating charts. First, though, a few brief theoretical observations:

The Iraqi War: A Defining Moment

The relevance of the UN study to the future of Iraq --- plus this and our earlier two commentaries on the Arab world compared to Israel and the rest of the industrial democratic countries --- should be self-evident. Gradually, as events unfold, the buggy prof will build on these commentaries in order to try shedding light on the challenges US policy faces in Iraq and toward the rest of the Arab world . . . itself the fulcrum of the war on terrorism.

Remember here. The challenges that shape the nature of this war and its threats to the US and its allies are three in number, closely related and adding up to one of those defining moments in international relations history, as with:

  • WWI and then the Russian and Nazi and fascist revolutions that followed in the interwar period;


  • WWII, and the permanent global expansion of the US around the world, politically, diplomatically, economically, and more recently culturally in the Cold War;


  • and the events since 1990, with the emergence of the unilateral distribution of power, centered on American primacy, and the simultaneous realignments of states that prevailed during the cold war that have been picking up speed and have begun to emerge in clearer outline in the diplomatic fracas over Iraq. A few key second-tier states trying to balance against the US (mainly the French, Germans, and Russians), even as the German and Russian governments have sought the last few days to retreat from their premature and ineffectual balancing . . . especially with the lightening success of the war in Iraq to date. Other such states rallying to the US despite hostile public opinion --- Britain, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Holland, and Australia. Others, "the New Europe" where public opinion is noticeably pro-American, all rallying to the US diplomatic position, despite French threats and tantrums recently directed at them. And most of the 22 Arab governments generally supportive or carefully quiet --- including the three former French-speaking colonies in North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) with which the US has good diiplomatic and economic relations . . . all this despite worries among those supportive or low-profile governments about their own political future as corrupt despots, along with hostile public opinion in most of them regarding the US-led war that they still cater to in traditional Arab double-dealing ways.


  • The next commentary published here will take up these three interrelated threats and try to throw some theoretical light on them.

     



    From the Economist (July 4th, 2002):

    "An unsparing new report by Arab scholars explains why their region lags behind so much of the world

    "WHAT went wrong with the Arab world? Why is it so stuck behind the times? It is not an obviously unlucky region. Fatly endowed with oil, and with its people sharing a rich cultural, religious and linguistic heritage, it is faced neither with endemic poverty nor with ethnic conflict. It shook off its colonial or neo-colonial legacies long ago, and the countries that had revolutions should have had time to recover from them. But, with barely an exception, its autocratic rulers, whether presidents or kings, give up their authority only when they die; its elections are a sick joke; half its people are treated as lesser legal and economic beings, and more than half its young, burdened by joblessness and stifled by conservative religious tradition, are said to want to get out of the place as soon as they can. . . .

    "The Arab world is taken to mean the 22 members of the Arab League, accounting at present for 280m people, or roughly the same as the United States, ranging from 68m in Egypt to 565,000 in Qatar. The region has the largest proportion of young people in the world—38% of Arabs are under 14—and it is calculated that the population will top 400m in 20 years' time. . . .

    Three things lacking

    "One in five Arabs still live on less than $2 a day. And, over the past 20 years, growth in income per head, at an annual rate of 0.5%, was lower than anywhere else in the world except sub-Saharan Africa. At this rate, says the report, it will take the average Arab 140 years to double his income, a target that some regions are set to reach in less than ten years. Stagnant growth, together with a fast-rising population, means vanishing jobs. Around 12m people, or 15% of the labour force, are already unemployed, and on present trends the number could rise to 25m by 2010.

    "The barrier to better Arab performance is not a lack of resources, concludes the report, but the lamentable shortage of three essentials: freedom, knowledge and womanpower. Not having enough of these amounts to what the authors call the region's three "deficits". It is these deficits, they argue, that hold the frustrated Arabs back from reaching their potential—and allow the rest of the world both to despise and to fear a deadly combination of wealth and backwardness.

    •Freedom. This deficit, in the UNDP's interpretation, explains many of the fundamental things that are wrong with the Arab world: the survival of absolute autocracies; the holding of bogus elections; confusion between the executive and the judiciary (the report points out the close linguistic link between the two in Arabic); constraints on the media and on civil society; and a patriarchal, intolerant, sometimes suffocating social environment.

    The area is rich in all the outward trappings of democracy. Elections are held and human-rights conventions are signed. But the great wave of democratisation that has opened up so much of the world over the past 15 years seems to have left the Arabs untouched. Democracy is occasionally offered, but as a concession, not as a right. . . "







    "The transfer of power through the ballot box is not a common phenomenon in the Arab world," the report says politely. Moreover, senior public servants, from ministers down, are seldom appointed solely on the basis of merit. People are given jobs not because of what they know, but because of whom they know. The result, all too often, is an unmoving, unresponsive central authority and an incompetent public administration.

    Freedom of expression and freedom of association are both sharply limited. The report quotes Freedom House, an American-based monitor of political and civil rights, in recording that no Arab country has genuinely free media, and only three have "partly free". The rest are not free.

    Civil society, in the Arab world, has a terribly long way to go. NGOs are hobbled by legal and administrative obstacles laid in their path by authorities deeply suspicious of what they might be up to. But they also suffer from internal weaknesses, often getting their money either from foreign sources, which adds to the suspicions, or from the government, which defeats the object of their creation.

    •Knowledge. "If God were to humiliate a human being," wrote Imam Ali bin abi Taleb in the sixth century, "He would deny him knowledge." Although the Arabs spend a higher percentage of GDP on education than any other developing region, it is not, it seems, well spent. The quality of education has deteriorated pitifully, and there is a severe mismatch between the labour market and the education system. Adult illiteracy rates have declined but are still very high: 65m adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women. Some 10m children still have no schooling at all.

    One of the gravest results of their poor education is that the Arabs, who once led the world in science, are dropping ever further behind in scientific research and in information technology. Investment in research and development is less than one-seventh of the world average. Only 0.6% of the population uses the Internet, and 1.2% have personal computers.

    Another, no less grave, result is the dearth of creativity. The report comments sadly on the severe shortage of new writing, and, for instance, the decline in the film industry. Nor are foreign books much translated: in the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, say the authors, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year.

    •Women's status. The one thing that every outsider knows about the Arab world is that it does not treat its women as full citizens. The report sees this as an awful waste: how can a society prosper when it stifles half its productive potential? After all, even though women's literacy rates have trebled in the past 30 years, one in every two Arab women still can neither read nor write. Their participation in their countries' political and economic life is the lowest in the world.

    Governments and societies (and sometimes, as in Kuwait, societies and parliamentarians are more backward than their governments) vary in the degrees of bad treatment they mete out to women. But in nearly all Arab countries, women suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements. The UNDP has a "gender-empowerment measure" which shows the Arabs near the bottom (according to this measure, sub-Saharan Africa ranks even worse). But the UN was able to measure only 14 of the 22 Arab states, since the necessary data were not available in the others. This, as the report says, speaks for itself, reflecting the general lack of concern in the region for women's desire to be allowed to get on.





    From the Economist (July 4th, 2002):

    "An unsparing new report by Arab scholars explains why their region lags behind so much of the world

    "WHAT went wrong with the Arab world? Why is it so stuck behind the times? It is not an obviously unlucky region. Fatly endowed with oil, and with its people sharing a rich cultural, religious and linguistic heritage, it is faced neither with endemic poverty nor with ethnic conflict. It shook off its colonial or neo-colonial legacies long ago, and the countries that had revolutions should have had time to recover from them. But, with barely an exception, its autocratic rulers, whether presidents or kings, give up their authority only when they die; its elections are a sick joke; half its people are treated as lesser legal and economic beings, and more than half its young, burdened by joblessness and stifled by conservative religious tradition, are said to want to get out of the place as soon as they can. . . .

    "The Arab world is taken to mean the 22 members of the Arab League, accounting at present for 280m people, or roughly the same as the United States, ranging from 68m in Egypt to 565,000 in Qatar. The region has the largest proportion of young people in the world—38% of Arabs are under 14—and it is calculated that the population will top 400m in 20 years' time. . . .

    "Three things lacking

    One in five Arabs still live on less than $2 a day. And, over the past 20 years, growth in income per head, at an annual rate of 0.5%, was lower than anywhere else in the world except sub-Saharan Africa. At this rate, says the report, it will take the average Arab 140 years to double his income, a target that some regions are set to reach in less than ten years. Stagnant growth, together with a fast-rising population, means vanishing jobs. Around 12m people, or 15% of the labour force, are already unemployed, and on present trends the number could rise to 25m by 2010.

    The barrier to better Arab performance is not a lack of resources, concludes the report, but the lamentable shortage of three essentials: freedom, knowledge and womanpower. Not having enough of these amounts to what the authors call the region's three "deficits". It is these deficits, they argue, that hold the frustrated Arabs back from reaching their potential—and allow the rest of the world both to despise and to fear a deadly combination of wealth and backwardness.

    •Freedom. This deficit, in the UNDP's interpretation, explains many of the fundamental things that are wrong with the Arab world: the survival of absolute autocracies; the holding of bogus elections; confusion between the executive and the judiciary (the report points out the close linguistic link between the two in Arabic); constraints on the media and on civil society; and a patriarchal, intolerant, sometimes suffocating social environment.

    The area is rich in all the outward trappings of democracy. Elections are held and human-rights conventions are signed. But the great wave of democratisation that has opened up so much of the world over the past 15 years seems to have left the Arabs untouched. Democracy is occasionally offered, but as a concession, not as a right. . . "







    "The transfer of power through the ballot box is not a common phenomenon in the Arab world," the report says politely. Moreover, senior public servants, from ministers down, are seldom appointed solely on the basis of merit. People are given jobs not because of what they know, but because of whom they know. The result, all too often, is an unmoving, unresponsive central authority and an incompetent public administration.

    Freedom of expression and freedom of association are both sharply limited. The report quotes Freedom House, an American-based monitor of political and civil rights, in recording that no Arab country has genuinely free media, and only three have "partly free". The rest are not free.

    Civil society, in the Arab world, has a terribly long way to go. NGOs are hobbled by legal and administrative obstacles laid in their path by authorities deeply suspicious of what they might be up to. But they also suffer from internal weaknesses, often getting their money either from foreign sources, which adds to the suspicions, or from the government, which defeats the object of their creation.

    •Knowledge. "If God were to humiliate a human being," wrote Imam Ali bin abi Taleb in the sixth century, "He would deny him knowledge." Although the Arabs spend a higher percentage of GDP on education than any other developing region, it is not, it seems, well spent. The quality of education has deteriorated pitifully, and there is a severe mismatch between the labour market and the education system. Adult illiteracy rates have declined but are still very high: 65m adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women. Some 10m children still have no schooling at all.

    One of the gravest results of their poor education is that the Arabs, who once led the world in science, are dropping ever further behind in scientific research and in information technology. Investment in research and development is less than one-seventh of the world average. Only 0.6% of the population uses the Internet, and 1.2% have personal computers.

    Another, no less grave, result is the dearth of creativity. The report comments sadly on the severe shortage of new writing, and, for instance, the decline in the film industry. Nor are foreign books much translated: in the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, say the authors, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year.

    •Women's status. The one thing that every outsider knows about the Arab world is that it does not treat its women as full citizens. The report sees this as an awful waste: how can a society prosper when it stifles half its productive potential? After all, even though women's literacy rates have trebled in the past 30 years, one in every two Arab women still can neither read nor write. Their participation in their countries' political and economic life is the lowest in the world.

    Governments and societies (and sometimes, as in Kuwait, societies and parliamentarians are more backward than their governments) vary in the degrees of bad treatment they mete out to women. But in nearly all Arab countries, women suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements. The UNDP has a "gender-empowerment measure" which shows the Arabs near the bottom (according to this measure, sub-Saharan Africa ranks even worse). But the UN was able to measure only 14 of the 22 Arab states, since the necessary data were not available in the others. This, as the report says, speaks for itself, reflecting the general lack of concern in the region for women's desire to be allowed to get on.

    Replies: 1 Comment

    A few remarks. First the "leadership of the Arab world in 12th century" is largely a myth or more exactly it does not account for the reason. During all ancient history until the Roman empire included, the eastern half of the Mediterranean and the Middle East were more advanced culturally and technically than the West. And while the Western Roman Empire succumbed to the Barbarians, its Eastern half (Byzantius) survived and was spared several centuries of anarchy. This increased the gap between West Europe ad East Mediterranean/Middle East. The Arabs inherited this adavance over the West. While they made some advances of their own, Ibn Warrak tells that a good part of the was made by non=Muslims or first generation Mulisms (educated in a non-Muslim way and who generally had converted to avoid trouble), with most of the reaminder creative work done by Christian and Jewish minorities. After the 12th century that changed. Everywhere in the Muslim-Arab world, fundamentalist know-nothing doctrines held sway, and the technological, medical, financial, and architectural -- and literary --- creativity of the Arabs soon disappeared.

    My other remark is about women in Arab world. It is generally acknowledged that the first four years in life are crucial for the intellectuual development of children. During those years they are mostly cared by women and since in Arab world they are kept in ignorance they cannot make a good job of educating their children.

    JFM:

    1) Yes, recent studies show that a great deal of the creativity in Iberia and the Middle East under Arab rule was undertaken by Christian and Jewish minorities, some of whom converted to get ahead, others remaining faithful to their tolerated minority status. Still, it's to the credit of the Arabs from the 8th to the 12th centuries that they tolerated their minorities, the opposite of the European traditions until the emergence of religious tolerance in the 18th and 19th century in the liberal advanced countries --- Jews persecuted, killed, or exiled almost everywhere in Europe after Pope Innocent III ghettoized them in 1215 before those centuries. And converts could move up quickly in Islam, something that the Ottomans also practiced after they took Constantinople and overran the Arab Middle East. After Andalusia in Spain declared its freedom from the Baghdad Caliphate in 926, Cordova became the intellectual capital of Europe for the next two centuries or so.

    2) After the 12th century, it's true, know-nothing fundamentalisms of the sort that flourish in the Middle East since the 1970s destroyed Arab and later Islamic creativity --- scientific, philosophical, literary, technological --- by imposing rigid orthodoxies that stifled learning. As the UN Arab Human Development Report 2002 notes here, startlingly, the 280 million Arabs have translated fewer books into Arabic than Spain with 40 million people translates yearly. And illiteracy is rampant, the worst in the world.

    3) The Christian conquest of Iberia --- Grenada finally captured and the last Muslim stronghold vacated in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella --- led to an intensification of the Spanish Inquisition's terrible persecution of Jews, convertisos, and Muslims. Jews and Muslims who didn't convert were expelled. The convertisos, who numbered hundreds of thousands of former Jews going back two centuries, were hounded, persecuted, burnt at the stake hundreds at a time; and then the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal destroyed ruthlessly all Protestant sects in the 1520s --- the reasons Protestantism had no influence on their subsequent history. By driving out the Jews and witch-hunting convertisos, the Spanish Catholics ensured that their intellectual, financial, and scientific elites were repressed or destroyed, and within decades both Spain and Portugal largely became intellectual backwaters . . . the Counter-Reformation led by Jesuits in those countries reinforcing orthodoxy. Since then, both countries have made negligible contributions to European science, mathematics, and philosophy, though Spain did nurture many great artists (Picassso and Miro ending up in France early in the last century).

    4) The oppression of women in the Arab Middle East and Iran varies in intensity --- the worst in Saudi Arabia with its Wahhabi fanaticism and in Shia-fervent Iran; but everywhere women are discriminated against severely in education and professional opportunities and even in legal recourse to prevent male brutality. The UN Arab Human Development Report 2002 notes rightly that such repression and systematic violation of the rights of half of the human race are a big factor in Arab economic and political and educational backwardness.

    Posted by JFM @ 04/12/2003 02:05 PM PST