The Arab world must address fundamental deficits in freedom, gender equality and knowledge acquisition if it is to achieve the levels of development enjoyed by most other regions of the world, concludes a UN report on Arab development published on 2 July.
The report, compiled over two years for the UN Development Programme by a group of Arab scholars, acknowledges that Arab states have made considerable progress in improving life expectancy and reducing dire poverty for their citizens. However, it notes that while a wave of democracy has washed over the emerging markets of Latin America and East Asia, the level of political and other freedoms in Arab countries is the lowest in the world.
'While de jure acceptance of democracy and human rights is enshrined in constitutions, legal codes and government pronouncements, de facto implementation is often neglected and in some cases deliberately disregarded,' the report says.
It claims that powerful control exerted by executive branches and the absence of genuine representative democracy have led to the squandering of much of the region's oil wealth.
The utilisation of women's capabilities through political and economic participation remains the lowest in the world. 'Society as a whole suffers when half of its productive potential is stifled,' the report warns.
On education, the report reveals that school enrolment is declining in proportion to the rising population and government spending on education has fallen since the mid 1990s. Moreover, the region suffers from the lowest level of access to the internet in the world.
The report concludes that, despite the dire statistics, there is still a way out for the Arab states. 'What the region needs to ensure a bright future for coming generations is the political will to invest in Arab capabilities and knowledge,' it says. 'The Arab world is at a crossroads. The fundamental choice is whether the trajectory will remain marked by inertia...or whether the prospects for an Arab renaissance, anchored in human development, will be actively pursued.'