New report critical of Arab human development performance
By Khalid Hassan
WASHINGTON: This year’s Arab Human Development Report is equally critical of Arab governments that have denied their citizens basic rights, provided restricted educational opportunities and kept their women behind closed doors.
The latest report once again emphasises the “growing knowledge gap” between the Arab world and other regions. Many women are illiterate, many children have no access to basic education, few Arabs pursue higher education and public spending on education has declined since 1985. There are fewer than 18 computers per 1,000 Arab citizens, compared with 78 computers per 1,000 people in developed countries.
According to an editorial comment in Los Angeles Times Saturday, the report makes the valid criticism that post-9/11 anti-terrorism laws in the United States and other countries have given Arab countries another excuse to restrict their political liberties. “The Bush administration should more strongly protest those moves, which have not been confined to the Mideast; these erosions of civil liberties are designed more to keep existing rulers in power than to really protect their people,” suggest the newspaper.
US curbs on visas after 9/11 also have stopped many Arabs from studying in America, which can only serve as another setback for their education. The report says venerating education and its role in improving society “closely approaches a religious obligation that Arabs ought to honour and exercise.” Becoming a “knowledge society” will require laws to guarantee freedom of expression, quality education for all and an emphasis on basic scientific research.
Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, a former deputy prime minister of Jordan and now a senior UN official, has said this year’s report was intended to provoke debate and prompt reforms in the Arab world. She notes that genuine change must come from within, not from outside these societies. The Los Angeles Times editorial points out, “There have been examples of progress in the last year, including legislative elections in Morocco and Bahrain. But too many Arab governments impose obstacles, especially by curtailing civil rights. To lift their countries to the level of nations elsewhere, Arab leaders will have to devote resources to educating those they rule and provide them with the opportunity for greater liberty.”