NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Economic Progress Has Eluded Islamic Countries

September 27, 2001

Some 1.3 billion people live in countries where Islam is the dominant or state religion. Over the centuries, Islam has declined from a wealthy and influential culture, historians say, to one of poverty and low levels of education.

Angry militants blame the U.S. and Europe for modern Islam's economic failure -- reasoning that the West's wealth must have been stolen from the East.

Poverty levels in many Islamic countries are extremely high. Although the following figures are the latest available, some date back to the late 1990s.

  • Afghanistan's 26 million people have a per capita output of less than $200 a year, a life expectancy of about 46 years and more than two-thirds are illiterate.
  • Pakistan's 144 million ring up only $487 per capita GDP -- in a nation where less than half are literate and life expectancy is roughly 61 years.
  • Sixty-nine million Egyptians enjoy a slightly higher per capita GDP at $1,307 -- as well as a literacy rate slightly above 50 percent and life expectancy of nearly 64 years.
  • Some 66 million Turks produce the U.S. GDP equivalent of $2,813 per capita -- with life expectancy of some 71 years and an 85 percent literacy rate.

Experts say that within the 46 Islamic countries, those who want to modernize are at odds with fundamentalists -- who want to return to the pattern of nomadic and agricultural civilizations that dominated many centuries ago.

Whether Islamic societies continue to retreat or join the modern world depends greatly on the educational opportunities afforded to today's Islamic youths.

Source: Peter Benesh, "Behind Radical Muslim Discontent: Economic Failure of Modern Islam," Investor's Business Daily, September 27, 2001.


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