NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Middle East Knowledge Deficit

November 10, 2003

The Arab Middle East is beset by three "deficits": freedom, women's rights and knowledge, according to the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR), a survey prepared by a group of regional scholars and policy analysts under the auspices of the United Nations.

Since the publication of the AHDR, a new follow-up report has appeared. Looking in depth at the region's knowledge deficits makes for depressing reading:

  • Newspapers circulate in the Middle East at one-fifth the rate of the developed world while Arabic books represent less than 1 percent of world production (even though Arabs make up 5 percent of world population).
  • The region's access to computers and the Internet is among the most limited in the world, with only 1.6 percent of the Arab population having Internet access.
  • The number of scientists working in Arab countries is about one-third of the global average, and about a quarter of graduates from universities emigrate.
  • Even the Arabic language has become a barrier, because the written form taught in schools is no longer spoken and does not have an adequate scientific lexicon.

The most important point, say the authors, is that the report is not the work of international human rights groups or U.S. idealists, but of Arab thinkers and policymakers convinced that democratic change is possible and essential in their countries; in contrast to efforts to restructure the region from outside, they offer a strategic vision by Arab elites.

Source: Editorial, "An Arab Reform Voice," Washington Post, November 7, 2003.

 

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