By Lysiane Gagnon,Globe and Mail Columnist, February 5, 2011
The UN’s “development program” concluded that the way out of Arab underdevelopment was the advent of political freedom and democracy, the promotion of “knowledge” and, last but not least, the empowerment of women.
Since 2002, other UN-commissioned reports have been published on the state of the Arab world. Basically, there’s been no progress. Here are some of the most depressing facts:
All the Arab League countries are governed by hereditary monarchies or authoritarian and corrupt, if not despotic, regimes that, in many cases, can count on the phenomenal revenues of oil production to placate the opposition.
Out of the roughly 335 million inhabitants of the Arab world, 65 million are illiterate, two-thirds of them women. Ten million children don’t go to school. The life expectancy of Arab women is lower than the world average. And the contribution of Arab women to public life (labour market, politics and so on) is the lowest in the world.
The intellectual life of the Arab world – which, a thousand years ago, was the proud beacon of an extremely advanced civilization – is marked by isolationism. According to the UN-commissioned report, the investment in research and development represents less than a seventh of the world average. Between 1980 and 2000, there were five times more books translated into Greek than into Arabic. During the last millennium, the Arab countries translated about the same number of books that Spain translates in a single year.
Between 1986 and 2000, only 367 scientific patents were registered in six Arab countries (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Syria and Jordan), while South Korea registered 16,328 and Israel 7,652.
How should this terrible record be explained?
Some Arabs play the victimization card, arguing that the culprits are colonialism and, not surprisingly, the United States. This, of course, is highly debatable. Most Arab countries were never colonized. Some of them lived, for various periods, as French or British protectorates, a form of domination lighter than colonialism.
Some of the world’s most dynamic countries have been brutally colonized, including all of Latin America. Taiwan and South Korea were colonized by Japan. Vietnam was colonized by France before being ravaged by the American intervention. As for China, it was invaded and dismembered for more than a century by Japan and the Western powers – and look where China is now.
As for U.S. influence being a purely negative force, look at South Korea, where 28,000 American soldiers are stationed. And South Korea is thriving.
The Arab academics who worked on the UN-commissioned reports consider that the Arab world’s problems are homegrown: the absence of liberties, bad governance and, of course, the inferior status of women. But, then, what’s the root cause of women’s disempowerment? One can suppose it has to do with Islamic fundamentalism rather than with Arab culture, since women are equally, if not more, repressed in a large part of the Muslim non-Arab world.
Not to disagree with the Arab academics who have prepared the various reports for the United Nations, but there is a significant participation by the "west" and more specifically the U.S. in maintaining the status quo, as a function of both sustained oil supplies and political alignments pleasing to the interests of the U.S.
When my wife and I visited the site of the terror attacks in New York, in the Spring of '02, a mere six months after the horrendous day itself, I remarked at the time, "This hole is the evidence of a dagger being stabbed into the relationship between the U.S. and Israel!"
It may have been overly simplistic but the location, smack dab in the middle of the financial district, the most throbbing financial district in the world, could not be ignored.
As I listen to the protesters in Egypt especially, I hear as much hatred for the U.S. and its relationship with Mubarak as I do for Mubarak himself. It is not that the U.S. has formally colonized Egypt or Tunisia, or Jordan or Yemen or Syria or Saudi Arabia, or even Israel.
It is much more complicated than that.
The U.S. consumes an inordinate amount of the world's oil supply, much of it located underground in the Middle East. The U.S. sends an inordinate amount of money into the region to purchase that oil, and has for many years. If the U.S. seeks anything more than oil it is security of the supply of that oil. In fact, it can be argued that the U.S. is addicted as much to security as it is to oil. And security is something the U.S. believes it can purchase. Because the U.S. believes that whatever it needs it can and must buy.
That is the essential definition of the U.S. culture. It is a culture defined by and based on the tenet that money can make whatever it wants and needs available....and immediately.
And that cash has helped people like Mubarak to sustain his political power, not only in Egypt itself but also in the region, especially through the Peace Treaty with Israel, and has made him and most likely a few of his cohorts very rich. You see the U.S. proposition that money can buy whatever the country needs and wants, is also based on the premise that "every man has a price" for loyalty, fealty and subservience.
So, keeping the people illiterate, and repressing the process of learning and of innovating and designing patents and simplifying the political reality into a bi-polar either accept ME or face the dangerous ENEMY (such as the Muslim Brotherhood, or AlQaeda, or Hamas, or Hezbollah, or the Iranian theocracy) has served both the interests of leaders like Mubarak and power-brokers like the U.S.
Now the people have unpacked the devil's pact and shown it for what it is, a money-centric, selfish pact between different 'super-powers' whose hold on the people has atrophied, as anyone seriously watching these past thirty years closely would have anticipated.