Wednesday, February 16, 2011

review of Arab culture of regression

Consider some of the important findings in recent Arab Human Development Reports and related studies:

• The total number of books translated into Arabic in the last 1,000 years is fewer than those translated into Spanish in one year.

• Greece – with a population of fewer than 11 million – translates five times as many books from abroad into Greek annually as the 22 Arab countries combined, with a total population of more than 300 million, translate into Arabic.

• According to a Council on Foreign Relations report, "In the 1950s, per-capita income in Egypt was similar to South Korea, whereas Egypt's per-capita income today is less than 20 percent of South Korea's. Saudi Arabia had a higher gross domestic product than Taiwan in the 1950s; today, it is about 50 percent of Taiwan's."

As Dr. A.B. Zahlan, a Palestinian physicist, has noted: "A regressive political culture is at the root of the Arab world's failure to fund scientific research or to sustain a vibrant, innovative community of scientists." He further asserted that "Egypt, in 1950, had more engineers than all of China." That is hardly the case today.

The UN Human Development Report reveals that only two Egyptians per million people were granted patents, compared to 30 in Greece and 35 in Israel (for Syria, the figure was zero).

Similarly, the adult literacy rate for women aged 15 and older was 43.6 percent in Egypt and 74 percent in Syria, while for the world's top 20 countries it was nearly 100 percent.

And finally, according to Freedom House rankings, no Arab country in the Middle East is listed as "free." Each is described as "partly free" at best, "not free" at worst.

The sad truth is that it is precisely political oppression, intellectual suffocation, and gender discrimination that explain, far more than any other factor, the chronic difficulties of the Middle East.