Monday, October 20, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan — A group of Arab intellectuals issued a report yesterday that found the Arab world lacking in three areas they deemed fundamental to development: freedom of expression, access to knowledge and women’s rights.

The group, criticized by Arab officials for a similar report last year, said the challenges caused by the deficiencies “may have become even graver” since 2002.

One of the authors, Clovis Maksoud, said he hoped the document would generate debate among Arabs to seek “objective and constructive change from within.”

Arabs want to participate in decision-making, not “remain marginalized and frustrated,” said Mr. Maksoud, a Lebanese professor of international relations at American University in Washington and former Arab League diplomat. If this continues, there will be a “real explosion.”

The Arab Human Development Report 2003 was commissioned by the United Nations Development Program in Amman and released at a brief ceremony attended by Jordan’s foreign minister.

More than 40 Arab scholars contributed to the report. Representatives of various U.N. agencies served as advisers.

As last year, yesterday’s 180-page document identified women’s rights, freedom of expression and access to knowledge as serious challenges facing the Arab region.

The report, covering 21 Arab countries and the Palestinian territories, called for expanding access to knowledge and focusing on family upbringing, education and the media.

“Knowledge can help the region expand human freedoms and become a powerful driver of economic growth through higher productivity,” it said.

The report said high illiteracy rates persist among women, particularly in less-developed states. Many children lack access to basic education.

Arab news outlets operate “in an environment that sharply restricts freedom of the press and freedom of expression and opinion,” while journalists “face illegal harassment, intimidation and even physical threats.”

The report noted the Arab region has 18 computers per 1,000 people, compared with the global average of 78 per 1,000 people. Fewer than 2 percent of Arabs have Internet access, compared with 79 percent in the United States.

Concerning women’s role in society, progress has been achieved in some countries but much remains to be done, the report said, praising the representation of women in some Arab parliaments and the appointment of others to senior public-service posts.

The report criticized the United States and other nations for making it harder for Arabs to study, live and travel to the West since the September 11 attacks.

The number of Arab students attending U.S. colleges fell by about 30 percent between 1999 and 2002.

Policies adopted in the war on terrorism “exceeded their original goals” and eroded “civil and political liberties in many countries,” particularly the United States, the report said.

However, the report also complained of a “brain drain” at home, where roughly one-quarter of students graduating from Arab universities in 1995 and 1996 with bachelor’s degrees emigrated, while 15,000 Arab doctors did likewise between 1998 and 2000.

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