Transforming the Arab World

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<ul><li><p>8/12/2019 Transforming the Arab World</p><p> 1/14</p><p>Assessments</p><p>Transforming the Arab World: The Arab Human</p><p>Development Report and the Politics of Change</p><p>Asef Bayat</p><p>The Arab Human Development Reports:</p><p>Changing Opportunities for Future Generations. New York: UNDP, 2002.</p><p>168 pp. $23.00 hardback.</p><p>Building a Knowledge Society. New York: UNDP, 2003. 217 pp. $23.00 hardback.</p><p>Towards Freedom in the Arab World. New York: UNDP, 2004. 248 pp.</p><p>$24.95 hardback.</p><p>By most accounts, the Middle East currently seems to be plunged into a dead-</p><p>lock the way out of which few would say they know for sure. Despite its massive</p><p>oil revenue, personal income of Arabs is among the lowest in the world.</p><p>Productivity is in decline, scientific research is in a poor state, school enrolment</p><p>is decreasing, and illiteracy is considerable despite high spending. Arab countrieshave a lower information/media to population ratio than the world average </p><p>less than fifty-three newspapers per 1,000 citizens, compared to 285 per 1,000</p><p>people in the industrialized world. Translation of books remains rare only 4.4</p><p>translated books per million people are published every year (compared to 519 in</p><p>Hungary and 920 in Spain). The Arab worlds developmental indexes in health</p><p>and education lag far behind comparable nations in the World Banks income</p><p>tables. In short Arab countries are richer than they are developed (AHDR,</p><p>2002). At the same time, the regions authoritarian regimes, ranging from Egypt,</p><p>Jordan and Morocco to the sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf (chiefly SaudiArabia), and all with close ties to the West, have continued to defy persistent</p><p>calls for democratization and accountability. Precisely such an historical trajec-</p><p>tory has engendered opposition movements, which have been overwhelmingly</p><p>articulated by religious (Islamist), political and ethno-lingual groups, and which</p><p>have espoused equally undemocratic, exclusive and often violent measures.</p><p>The combination of such social and political conditions has more than</p><p>ever reinforced, in the mainstream media and academic circles in the West,</p><p>the already prevalent idea of Middle Eastern Exceptionalism that kernel</p><p>of the Orientalist paradigm. Thus, in comparison with its counterparts in</p></li><li><p>8/12/2019 Transforming the Arab World</p><p> 2/14</p><p>the developing world, the Middle East in particular the Arab world is</p><p>often viewed as something very different, a unique cultural entity which</p><p>does not fit into conventional frames of analysis. Policy personnel in the</p><p>West, notably the US, call for an urgent change in the region, and yetbelieve that change will not come from within, but from without, and by</p><p>force. This juncture has encouraged the neo-conservative ideologues in the</p><p>US Administration to put into practice their Leo Straussian philosophy of</p><p>force, illiberal elitism in politics, and the idea of uniting political order by</p><p>means of creating external threat. Muslim countries in the region are told to</p><p>alter textbooks, abolish religious schools, and instruct religious preachers to</p><p>refrain from anti-US sermons. The US has already toppled the Taliban</p><p>regime in Afghanistan, dismantled Saddam Husseins regime by occupation</p><p>of Iraq, while threatening Iran in a quest to generate a greater Middle East,to cultivate democracy and development.</p><p>Few Arabs and Muslims in the region consider change by force as a viable</p><p>or acceptable strategy, not least because it is essentially immoral, inflicts</p><p>widespread violence and destruction, and impinges on peoples dignity.</p><p>Having lived and worked in the Middle East for the past two decades, I</p><p>feel that a call for political change from within continues ceaselessly even</p><p>though the external conflicts, notably Israels continuing occupation of</p><p>Palestinian lands and the aggressive US foreign policy in the region, have</p><p>seriously distorted internal struggles for social and political transformation.The stubborn resiliency of the authoritarian Arab states against change,</p><p>coupled with the threat of imperialist domination from outside, have plunged</p><p>the region into a depressing impasse. Perhaps never before has the quest for</p><p>an endogenous vision for change in the Arab world been so urgent as today.</p><p>The significance of the Arab Human Development Report(AHDR), among</p><p>others, lies precisely in its publication at this debilitating regional and global</p><p>juncture, notably after the crucial post-9/11 turning point. The Report, now</p><p>in three volumes Changing Opportunities for Future Generations (2002),</p><p>Building a Knowledge Society(2003) andTowards Freedom in the Arab World(2004) with a planned fourth volume devoted to womens empowerment</p><p>(2005) represents the most significant manifesto of change produced by</p><p>the Arabs for the Arab world, but taking a strong cue from global discourses</p><p>and paradigms. To serve the strategic objective of radical transformation,</p><p>the authors adopt a broad understanding of development, in terms of a</p><p>process of expanding peoples choices. Perceived as a mixture of Dudley</p><p>Seers notion of development as a process which allows the realization of</p><p>human potential and Amartya Sens freedom as development, the Report</p><p>views human development as a process in which people enlarge their choices,influence the processes that shape their lives and enjoy full human rights</p><p>1226 Asef Bayat</p></li><li><p>8/12/2019 Transforming the Arab World</p><p> 3/14</p><p>as freedom. Thus, in a comprehensive survey of development status ranging</p><p>from education, health and knowledge to culture and politics, the Report</p><p>identifies three major deficits in knowledge, in freedom/democracy, and</p><p>in womens empowerment which are at the core of Arab developmentaldecline. It describes how some sixty-five million adult Arabs, two-thirds of</p><p>them women, have remained illiterate. The quality of education is in decline</p><p>and mechanisms for intellectual capital development are lacking. College</p><p>graduates do not find jobs in suitable occupations; the use of information</p><p>communications technology (ICT) is remarkably limited and consequently</p><p>highly educated people are in short supply.</p><p>Disparity in the distribution of knowledge manifests only one aspect of</p><p>gender inequality in the Arab countries. It is true that womens education</p><p>and literacy have certainly improved, but the prevailing social attitudes andnorms continue to focus on womens reproductive role and their unpaid tasks.</p><p>Consequently, 50 per cent of women remain illiterate, while their mortality rate</p><p>is double that of Latin America (AHDR 2003, p. 3). In addition, women are</p><p>treated unfairly before the law, in personal status, pay, structures of opportu-</p><p>nity and occupational hierarchy. With the continuing discrimination against</p><p>women, society undermines a major segment of its productive capacity.</p><p>As feminist theory has taught us, gender inequality reflects a deficit in</p><p>democratic theory and practice in general. And in the Arab region in</p><p>particular, this deficit is far more profound. According to the ArabHuman Development Report, the region in these respects lags far behind</p><p>Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe. While the Arab states in general</p><p>talk the talk of democracy, they have in practice exhibited highly authori-</p><p>tarian tendencies. Dominated by powerful executives and lifelong presiden-</p><p>cies, the states curtail freedom of expression and association, while human</p><p>rights have fallen victim to secretive and coercive institutions, unaccount-</p><p>able to anyone. Suppression of freedoms and human rights is the enemy of</p><p>human development, the Report concludes.</p><p>To remedy these debilitating conditions and to achieve meaningful devel-opment, theArab Human Development Report calls for empowering women,</p><p>building a knowledge society, and achieving freedom and good governance.</p><p>POLITICS SURROUNDING THE DOCUMENT</p><p>No comparable Arab document in recent memory has been as much</p><p>debated, commended and contested as the AHDR. Prepared by a team ofover 100 Arab intellectuals and professionals at a cost of some US$700,000</p><p>thus far 1 the Report has provoked unprecedented discussion in the West as</p><p>Assessment: The Arab Human Development Report 1227</p></li><li><p>8/12/2019 Transforming the Arab World</p><p> 4/14</p><p>well as in the Arab world about the predicament of the region aired on</p><p>television talk shows, in parliaments and in print media. The first two</p><p>volumes of the Report were received with great jubilance and enthusiasm</p><p>in the West. The editorials of the major US and European dailies praised theauthors for their professionalism and honesty in disclosing the sad truths of</p><p>their nations. With uncommon candour and a battery of statistics, the pro-</p><p>Israel Middle East Quarterly reacted, the Report tells a sorry story of two</p><p>decades of failed planning and developmental decline (Middle East</p><p>Quarterly, 2002). More than one million copies of the first issue of the</p><p>Report (AHDR 2002) were downloaded within only the first year of its</p><p>publication, while the website of the Report has received some two million</p><p>hits.2 The US State Department described the 2002 Report as a ground</p><p>breaking document (US State Department Briefing, 2003) and TimeMagazine deemed it the most important publication of 2002. The presti-</p><p>gious Dutch Prince Claus Award in 2003 went to this publication; and the</p><p>G8 in 2004 endorsed the US plan for a greater Middle East on the basis of</p><p>the recommendations of this remarkable document. The deplorable state of</p><p>development in the Arab world, it was thought, lay at the heart of the rising</p><p>terrorism in the Middle East, which the G8 considered as jeopardizing the</p><p>Middle Easts own national interests.3</p><p>The Western over-enthusiasm for the Report had largely to do with the</p><p>perceived acknowledgement by the Arab elites of their own deficiencies inpractising freedom, democracy and development and this through a</p><p>document that had been sanctioned by the credible United Nations</p><p>Development Programme. It reflected a confirmation of the Western</p><p>expert anxieties, claims and strategies raised, particularly, in the crucial</p><p>conjuncture of post-9/11. The expert community would hear through the</p><p>pages of the Report how the Arab world, now considered as the nest of</p><p>global terrorism, acknowledged its own indictment, while proclaiming its</p><p>desire to launch political and economic reform.</p><p>For the very same reasons (and the fact) that the Western officials andcommentators exalted the Report, many Arab intellectuals slammed the</p><p>publication at home. They lashed out at the Report for vilifying and, as</p><p>they saw it, degrading the Arab world before Israel and the US at the time</p><p>when the Arabs were being besieged globally. They feared that the Report</p><p>could be used to justify the American expansionist policy and Israeli dom-</p><p>ination in the region. They charged the Reports exclusive emphasis on</p><p>internal sources of decline as one-sided, totally ignoring the role of coloni-</p><p>alism and imperialist intervention in causing the developmental malaise of</p><p>the Arab peoples (Amin, 2003). For them, the Report signified the defen-siveness of its authors and their deference to Western sensibilities. The fact</p><p>1228 Asef Bayat</p></li><li><p>8/12/2019 Transforming the Arab World</p><p> 5/14</p><p>that the document was originally written in English and only then translated</p><p>into Arabic was seen as a further confirmation of the intended (Western)</p><p>audience of the publication. In addition, the Arab critics denounced the</p><p>Report for adopting a concept of human development which drew on theAlternative Human Development Index (AHDI) that emphasizes individual</p><p>freedom, women and gender issues the major focus of Western policy</p><p>makers. What should be prioritized, they argued, was tackling the problems</p><p>of poverty, education, health and equity, rather than democratization,</p><p>because there is not necessarily a causal relationship between democracy</p><p>and development (understood as income plus Human Development Index</p><p>indicators), in particular an American formula of democracy, underlining</p><p>free markets with little attention paid to human entitlements and social</p><p>services (Said, 2003).Neither the over-enthusiasm of Western commentators nor the dispara-</p><p>ging tone of Arab counterparts does justice to the Report. Both tend to</p><p>politicize the document, praising and blaming it for largely the wrong</p><p>reasons. The Arab intelligentsias suspicion of Western enthusiasm about</p><p>the Report is justified, given the destructive and debilitating effects of the</p><p>Western policy especially US foreign policy on the regions develop-</p><p>ment and democracy. In the name of fighting against communism, to</p><p>maintain their geopolitical dominance and secure the flow of cheap oil,</p><p>many Western governments have invariably helped the regions authoritar-ian states to crush nationalist, socialist and popular struggles (as in Iran,</p><p>Oman, etc.). US support for Israels continuing occupation of Palestinian</p><p>lands, undermining resistance movements against the occupation, and its</p><p>own illegal occupation of Iraq represent enough reasons for the Arab</p><p>population to suspect Western intentions to democratize the region.</p><p>The Arab critics of the Report are correct when they suggest the cause for</p><p>the deplorable state of knowledge is not just internal despotism but also</p><p>foreign interventions. The Israeli armys recent looting of the Palestinian</p><p>universities, research centres and archives has surely not helped the growthof a knowledge society in Palestine. Indeed, notwithstanding its official UN</p><p>status, volumes 2 and 3 of the Report (2003, 2004) do take issue, albeit</p><p>briefly, with the destructive consequences for Arab human development of</p><p>Israeli colonialism and Anglo-American occupation of Iraq. The killing by</p><p>the Israeli army of 768 and injuring of over 4,000 Palestinians between May</p><p>2003 and June 2004, the demolition of some 12,000 homes within only three</p><p>years, and the parcelization of the West Bank, along with attendant eco-</p><p>nomic and psychological damage, have resulted in devastating developmen-</p><p>tal consequences. In a similar vein, the occupation of Iraq with its massiveloss of lives, destruction of infrastructure, dismantling of state institutions,</p><p>Assessment: The Arab Human Development Report 1229</p></li><li><p>8/12/2019 Transforming the Arab World</p><p> 6/14</p><p>East has for a long time been infused by a strong nationalist discourse, often</p><p>at the cost of externalizing internal problems and losing a balanced sense of</p><p>self. By exclusive attention to the evils of colonialism and external intrigues,</p><p>the prevailing dependency paradigm in the Arab region has for decadescontributed to a debilitating nationalist and populist politics in which a</p><p>critique of self, of patriarchy, of authoritarian polity and reaching out to the</p><p>world have been lost to defensiveness, political self-indulgence and conspir-</p><p>acy theory. This outlook, still prevalent among the political classes in the</p><p>Arab world, has distorted class politics, derailed the struggle for democracy,</p><p>curtailed transnational solidarity (with movements located in the West, for</p><p>instance), and has largely played into the hands of the authoritarian Arab</p><p>regimes which also play nationalist/nativist cards....</p></li></ul>