Human development in the Arab world

Arab Human Development Reports (download)

Tunisian Revolution Shakes, Inspires Middle East
(Truthdig) The Tunisian uprising that overthrew the 23-year-old regime of strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had resonances throughout the Middle East. Leaders of countries invested in the region’s authoritarian and highly unequal status quo rejected the political revolution, while groups and states that want change welcomed it. The spectacle of masses of demonstrators pouring down Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis on Friday, overwhelming security forces and putting the president to flight, raised the hopes of the dispossessed and the downtrodden, even as it inspired a gathering dread in the breasts of the region’s dictators and absolute monarchs. Whether or not, as many observers rushed to predict, a wave of discontent will radiate from Tunis throughout the Arab world (and there are reasons to be cautious about that prospect), the “Jasmine Revolution” is a Rorschach test for distinguishing reactionaries from innovators in the region.
17 January
3,000 Jordanians protest govt economic policies
“We have been suffering in Jordan the same way Tunisians have been suffering,” Muslim Brotherhood leader Hammam Said told the protesters, referring to the popular revolt in Tunisia that ousted its strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
On Saturday, about 50 Jordanian trade unionists held a sit-in outside the Tunisian embassy in Amman, shouting “Tunisia’s revolution will spread.”
“We must put an end to oppression and restrictions on freedoms and people’s will,” the Islamist leader said.
What the Arab papers say
(The Economist) THE Arab press has been awash with responses to the protests in Tunisia deposing Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali. Their views range from from elation at the fall of Tunisia’s president, to concern over how the power vacuum will be filled and speculation about which corrupt Arab leader could be next to fall.
16 January
To the tyrants of the Arab world…
(Al Jazeera) Tunisians have sent a message to the Arab world, warning leaders they are no longer immune to popular anger.
Tunisia riots offer warning to Arab govts
(Kuwait Times) Nervous Arab leaders watching young Tunisian demonstrators force an ageing strongman to step aside are wondering if their own old established formula of political repression will have to change too. There seems little likelihood that Tunisia’s violence will quickly spread and unseat autocratic governments, partly as opposition movements are weak and demoralised. Few think Tunis is the Arab Gdansk, heralding a toppling of dominos of the kind that swept communist eastern Europe in 1989. It was not yet even
clear whether the departure of President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali spelled a revolution in favour of democracy or a change of face for the established authority.
Yet some wonder how long the region’s other unpopular rulers – from absolute monarchs to ageing revolutionaries clinging to power – can rely on the hard, old ways to stay in power.
14 January
The ‘bin Laden’ of marginalisation
(Al Jazeera) The real terror eating away at the Arab world is socio-economic marginalisation.

2010

31 December
The rebirth of Arab activism
(Al Jazeera) How one young Tunisian is emerging as a symbol of disenfranchised and impoverished Arab youth.
Mohamed Bou’aziz, the young Tunisian who set fire to himself on December 17, is emerging as a symbol of the wider plight of the millions of young Arabs who are struggling to improve their living conditions.
Like many across the Arab world, Bou’aziz, who is now being treated for severe burns, discovered that a university degree was insufficient to secure decent employment. He turned to selling fruit for a living, but when the security forces confiscated his vending cart he torched himself – igniting a series of protests across Tunisia.
The roots of this Tunisian ‘uprising’ are to be found in a lethal combination of poverty, unemployment and political repression: three characteristics of most Arab societies.
23 April
Let Democracy Resound
(PBS Frontline) … These parallel laments, from cities hundreds of miles apart, point to an encouraging new phenomenon: the emergence of a transnational democratic consciousness across large swaths of the Mideast. Thanks to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, Middle Easterners are increasingly exposed to firsthand reports of reform struggles in nearby countries — and are in turn adopting new techniques for their own struggles against despotism. For those fed up with tyranny at home, the struggle for human rights carried out by neighbors provides both inspiration and tactical lessons in nonviolent resistance.
Yet the same ethic and sectarian tensions — Persian versus Arab, Sunni versus Shia, etc. — that often make the region such a dangerous place for its inhabitants also divide its reformers.

(Press Release) “Human Security” offers new way to understand development challenges in the Arab region
Human security is not merely about survival; it is about relaunching people at risk on a safer course, supported by political, economic, social and cultural building blocks for a better life
BEIRUT, 21 July, 2009 ―In Arab countries, a widespread lack of human security undermines human development, according to the Arab Human Development Report 2009: Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries. This report is prepared by independent scholars drawn from the region.

A Green University: Abu Dhabi’s revolutionary new eco–school looks to a future beyond oil.
(Newsweek) Abu Dhabi’s bet on life after oil is the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which … will be the world’s first postgraduate research university in science and engineering focusing on alternative energy and -sustainability—and in a self-contained green city to boot. … once completed, MI will be the cornerstone of a $22 billion city of the future rising out of the sand on the edge of the Rub al Khali—or Empty Quarter—desert in Abu Dhabi. Masdar City aspires to be the world’s first built-from-scratch eco–city. Over the next decade, if the economic downturn doesn’t derail plans, Masdar will grow to house 40,000 -residents—in a solar-powered, car-free, zero-waste, carbon-neutral city environment that just happens to sit atop some of the richest oilfields on the planet. The idea is for the government of Abu Dhabi, in partnership with tech companies, to transform these once desolate six square kilometers into a kind of Silicon Valley of clean-energy know-how.
The Masdar Institute was founded in June 2008 with a five-year investment of $1.5 billion from the Abu Dhabi government The emirate’s key partner in the venture is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When MI opens its doors on Sept. 6, its faculty will have spent up to a year working closely with MIT professors. MIT and MI are also collaborating on the development of joint research projects, and MIT is providing assistance in designing degree programs and helping to attract tech industries to Masdar City.
4 August
Tom Friedman: Green Shoots in Palestine
The whole report would have left me feeling hopeless had I not come to Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government in the West Bank, to find some good cheer. I’m serious.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the wider Middle East what off-Broadway is to Broadway. It is where all good and bad ideas get tested out first. Well, the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former I.M.F. economist, is testing out the most exciting new idea in Arab governance ever. I call it “Fayyadism.” Fayyadism is based on the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.
1 August
A place that never changes
Robert Fulford
(National Post) … the Arab Human Development Report, a series that began in 2002 under the United Nations Development Programme, has acquired an unexpected habit of honesty. The fifth installment, the work of 90 Arab scholars, appeared last week under the title Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries. Seven years ago, the first report identified three “deficits” in Arab life — education, political freedom and women’s rights. In these fields, particularly politics, the situation has grown worse. Despite occasional reports of emerging democracy, most of the 350 million people in the region remain afflicted by dictatorships that show no sign of changing.
Economically, news is no better. While the planet has been in a temporary recession, the Arabs live in a permanent depression; Arab unemployment is more than double that of the rest of the world. As the assembled scholars judge it, Arabs are even less industrialized than they were four decades ago. Illiteracy remains high in many countries, health services sketchy. As for public safety, people fear the state security forces as much as they fear foreign invasion.
Yet most people in the West anticipate improvements in Arab life. The West believes in progress above everything else, and insists on re-asserting its belief against all contrary evidence.
Consider this week’s edition of The Economist [see below], in which the UN report serves as the keystone of a 14-page section on Arab prospects. The editors recount the failures of the Arab countries, but announce in their magazine’s cover line that the Arab world is “waking from its sleep.” The leading editorial ends with glimpses of progress in women’s education, increasingly enlightened businessmen and the growth of satellite television (meaning al-Jazeera and its ilk) as a source of non-government information. Moreover, the unemployed young, more numerous than ever, are ripe for social upheaval.
27 July
Jeffrey Simpson: Little solace in the latest Arab development report
The Arab world is still ‘richer than it is developed’
Seven years ago, the United Nations did something quite brave. Its Development Program asked a group of Arab scholars and intellectuals to analyze what was wrong in the Arab world. The result was a sobering, even scathing, indictment of the political, constitutional, economic and social obstacles to modernity in Arab countries.
The latest report, like the previous ones, offers a thorough and depressing analysis, but it omits all discussion of the Muslim faith, or at least how certain interpretations of the faith might be influencing or causing the region’s “stubborn” problems. It’s as if the authors collectively decided that Islam would be an analytical no-go zone – which is rather unfortunate, given that certain interpretations of Islam are tied to the treatment of women, the role of the state, the formation of secular politics, the schisms within and among countries and, of course, attitudes toward other religions and societies.
Religion aside, the Arab world has huge geographical problems, as in water scarcity and pollution, increasing desertification, and lands likely to be adversely affected by climate change. (Higher ocean levels will threaten parts of the Nile Delta, for example; drier climate will expand deserts.) There’s also a demographic challenge in that 60 per cent of the Arab world’s population is under 25, with not nearly enough jobs for young people entering the labour market.
23 July
A special report on the Arab world
Waking from its sleep
(The Economist) The Arab world has experienced two decades of political stagnation, says Peter David (interviewed here). But there is a fever under the surface
IN A special report on the Arab world which The Economist published in 1990, the headline at the top of this page was “When history passes by” (see article). That was when the communist dictatorships of eastern Europe were beginning to wobble and fall. In the Arab world, however, authoritarian rule remained the order of the day. And whereas western Europe was making massive strides towards political and economic union, the Arabs remained woefully divided. Much Arab opinion remained fixated on the struggle with Israel, in which the Arabs seemed unable to hold their own, let alone prevail.
To revisit the Arab world two decades later is to find that in many ways history continues to pass the Arabs by. Freedom? The Arabs are ruled now, as they were then, by a cartel of authoritarian regimes practised in the arts of oppression. Unity? As elusive as ever. Although the fault lines have changed since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait 19 years ago, inter-Arab divisions are bitter. Egypt, the biggest Arab country, refused even to attend April’s Arab League summit meeting in Doha. Israel? Punctuated by bouts of violence and fitful interludes of diplomacy, the deadly stalemate continues. Neither George H. Bush at Madrid in 1991 nor Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000 nor George W. Bush at Annapolis in 2007 succeeded in making peace or even bringing it visibly closer.

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