Study Warns of Stagnation in Arab Societies.
July 1, 2002 11:51 PM   Subscribe

Study Warns of Stagnation in Arab Societies. "The report, the first United Nations human development report devoted to a single region, was prepared by Arab intellectuals from a variety of disciplines, who do not fault others for what they see as the "deficits" in contemporary Arab culture, Ms. Khalaf Hunaidi said."
posted by Zool (11 comments total)
The real news in this story is that the UN actually needed another report to figure this out. Well, that's actually not so surprising either, now that I think about it.
posted by dagny at 12:21 AM on July 2, 2002

Despite growing populations, the standard of living in Arab countries on the whole has advanced considerably. Life expectancy is longer than the world average of 67 years, the report noted. The level of abject poverty is the world's lowest. Education spending is higher than elsewhere in the developing world.

But the use of the Internet is low. Filmmaking appears to be declining. The authors also describe a "severe shortage" of new writing and a dearth of translations of works from outside. "The whole Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one-fifth the number that Greece translates," the report said. In the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, it concludes, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in just one year.

Interesting and depressing contrasts.

Still, it's nice to see Arab intellectuals actually being intellectual. There have been so many (and oft-deserved) negative stereotypes of late that a little progressive feedback is welcome.
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:27 AM on July 2, 2002

In other news, UN scientists have discovered that the world is round and water is wet. The implications of these findings are still unclear, but the UN plans to use this empirical data to help negotiate peace between man and nature.
posted by dogmatic at 2:12 AM on July 2, 2002

It's beside the point to make fun of this study because the conclusions are obvious. The study's conclusions aren't as important as who conducted the study: Arabs. Because the report was written by Arabs, perhaps the Arab world will pay attention to the study.

The problems in the Arab world seem obvious to someone like me, an outsider who has never set foot in an Arabic country or even one in which the majority of citizens are Islamic. Why would Arabs listen to such an outsider? How seriously do Americans take Arab criticism about American culture?

Societies transform themselves in response to self-criticism, not in response to outside criticism.
posted by Holden at 6:51 AM on July 2, 2002

This study does not blame George W Bush in particular or Crackers in general for the plight of the Arab world and is therefore fundamentally flawed.
posted by revbrian at 7:00 AM on July 2, 2002

What Holden said is so true -- and yet I fear that even coming from Arabs, it may not be listened to. The invective that has accrued to someone like Fouad Ajami over the years, native to those societies, shows that even self-criticism is almost thoroughly rejected. His Dream Palace is all about how Arabs have preferred, over the centuries, to wear rose-colored glasses and bask in reflected glory of their own past, as time and again the real world has intruded. By ignoring its lessons, for hundreds of years now, they've eroded their own ability to deal with change.

The oil riches have both distorted these societies -- ripping many from tents to skyscrapers in a generation -- and protected them from seeing their own ills. You have to wonder what will happen to a nation like Saudi Arabia when the oil runs out, and a desert must support ten or twenty times as many people. Too few are thinking that far ahead.

The problems of the region were not as telling even a decade ago. Many parts of the world were only beginning to adjust to the end of the bipolar Cold War and the dictatorships that imposed on both sides. But from South America, to Asia, to even sad Africa, those authoritarian governments have been thrown off, and new, mature, responsible leaders have emerged. Today the contrast with the Arab world is stark. There is hardly a functioning democracy in the bunch. There are no industrial bases. There are no exports or research universities or inventions. And the trade that sustained the region for millennia now flies over it or floats around it.

Saudi Arabia continues to rake in the oil money, but most goes to the royal family -- which broods around 50 more princes every month, each entitled to a half-million dollar trust fund. Non-royal Arabs seek empty degrees in Islamic studies. Meanwhile, the meaningful work in the country is done by imported laborers from Southeast Asia. And per-capita income has dropped by two-thirds in the last 20 years. This is not a society that is managing its bounty well.

And if they're mad now?
posted by dhartung at 8:07 AM on July 2, 2002

The real news in this story is that the UN actually needed another report to figure this out.

Documentation and analysis of a situation can lead toward productive action; bantering about it among your friends cannot. This is a good step.
posted by rushmc at 8:20 AM on July 2, 2002

I agree with the constructive comments. I can't believe people are just making fun of this ... that's just plain dumb.
posted by donkeyschlong at 8:38 AM on July 2, 2002

Patton noted something similar to this stagnation is his biography War As I Knew It, during his visit to Morocco. I think he was referring to a more long term stagnation, a loss of technology and innovation, and he blamed Islam, if I recall correctly. We owe as much of our mathematical advancements today to the Arabs as we do the Romans. (apologies for the horrible pink background)
posted by insomnyuk at 9:54 AM on July 2, 2002

Of course, they had to throw the Israeli-occupation-as- source-of-stagnation line in there. Israel has provided more economic stimulus and capital flows to the territories than the rest of the Arab world. Not to mention an economic model to emulate.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:19 PM on July 2, 2002

The necessary qualification to Paris' statement, as usual, is that it's also been Israel's policy to maintain the Palestinians in an economically subordinate position. That's still head and shoulders above the other Arab countries, but it needs to be said.
posted by donkeyschlong at 4:36 PM on July 2, 2002

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