NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Arab Intellectuals Indict Arab Societies in Report

July 2, 2002

A group of leading Arab intellectuals has produced a report under United Nations sponsorship warning 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 project, launched over a year ago, was given unexpected new relevance by the attacks of Sept. 11 as the West began to search for the causes of Arab anger.

Here are some observations from the survey, the Arab Human Development Report 2002, which is being released in Cairo:

  • Arab productivity and research and development are weak, declining or nonexistent -- while science and technology are dormant.
  • Arab intellectuals are fleeing a stultifying -- if not repressive -- political and social environment.
  • Half of Arab women still cannot read or write, and the maternal mortality rate is double that of Latin America and four times that of East Asia.
  • For Palestinians in particular, human development is all but impossible under Israeli occupation, and the conflict has been a cause and pretext for delaying democratic change.

Per capita income growth has shrunk in the last 20 years to the level just above that of sub-Saharan Africa. The authors also declare a "severe shortage" of new writing, and the fact that the whole Arab world translates about 330 books annually -- one-fifth the number that Greece translates.

The report does not directly criticize Islamic militancy and its effects on economic and intellectual growth, but one of the authors say this is implicit in passages that refer to a less tolerant social environment.

Source: Barbara Crossette, "Study Warns of Stagnation in Arab Societies," New York Times, July 2, 2002.


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