Middle East

The Arab Press on Arab Human Development

Rima Khalaf Drops a Bomb

Arab culture today: a movie poster in Cairo, Egypt.

When Dr. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi was Jordanian minister of planning, she wanted to issue a report about human development in Jordan along the lines of the report published annually by the United Nations Development Program on human development in developing countries. The political aim of the minister was to show that the social and development situation in Jordan is better than many critics think and at the same time to provide the Planning Ministry with an instrument with which to pressure other ministries and organizations to improve by way of comparing their performance.

Now that Rima Khalaf has moved to the United Nations as director of the Arab regional office in the U.N. Development Program, she has taken the same idea and expanded it to cover 22 Arab countries in order to make clear the region’s faults and give encouragement to those in a position to instigate reform.

The team she chose and led was 100-percent Arab in order to avoid accusations of bias against the Arabs or of focusing on negative points in an attempt to distort the image of the Arabs in the world, according to the conspiracy theory.

But, despite that, the report was a bombshell nonetheless, though the only thing that would surprise those who are familiar with the situation in the Arab world is its nondiplomatic language and criticism, and naming of the faults. Arab societies are paralyzed because of the absence of political freedoms, the persecution of women, and isolation from the world and new ideas.

The oil wealth is matched by social backwardness, and the only other region of the world with an income level lower than ours is sub-Saharan Africa. Productivity is decreasing, scientific research is virtually nonexistent, the region is suffering a brain drain, and illiteracy afflicts half of Arab women. The report was only diplo-matic concerning implicit criticisms of extremist Islamist movements as a cause of the culture of backwardness and absence of fertile ground for democ-racy. Interestingly, the report found that the total number of books translated into Arabic yearly is no more than 330, or one-fifth of those translated in a small country like Greece.

Indeed, the total number of books translated into Arabic during the 1,000 years since the age of Caliph Al-Ma’moun [a ninth-century Arab ruler who was a patron of cultural interaction between Arab, Persian, and Greek scholars—WPR] to this day is less than those translated in Spain in one year. The report noted that Arab rulers stay in office all their lives and create dynasties that inherit power, and the peoples are unable to institute change.

The Arab development report hangs out the Arabs’ dirty washing before the world and offers a wealth of information that mars the image of the Arabs in the world, but unfortunately the information is correct. Perhaps the most Arab regimes will do after reading it is to pressure Kofi Annan to move Rima Khalaf and ask her to pack her bags and return to her home in Amman.