Alarming findings in the fifth Arab Human Development report (AHDR) 2009

Alarming findings in the fifth Arab Human Development report (AHDR) 2009 – but as usual Israel is to blame…

writer: Zvi Mazel Former Israeli Ambassador to Sweden

The fifth report on Arab Human Development was released in the Lebanese capital Beirut on July 21st. Sponsored by the United Nations Development Program – UNDP – it deals with the state of the society and economy in the Arab world and details in 208 pages the ills that plague that world. This is the work of Arab economists together with UN experts and as such is widely accepted by Arab governments – though they prefer to ignore it. Arab media has got a little more daring in recent years but still did not give the report the full treatment it deserved. The fact is that since the first report was published in 1994 the situation has gone from bad to worse.

The report was released in Beirut in the presence of the Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Seniora, a senior representative of the Arab league and a number of public figures and leading economists. Its findings are stark. Poverty and unemployment are on the rise; desertification progresses rapidly and affects what used to be good agricultural lands. Human rights are at risk, there is widespread use of torture. However the reason for that sorry situation was quickly found: Israel, said the distinguished politicians presenting the report, is to blame.

The report itself focuses on poverty, human security, the pervasive use of torture, the condition of women and the presence of many refugees in several countries. There are several armed conflicts in the area; the overall quality of life (urbanization, constructions etc) is affected; economic regression leads to the disintegration of social structures. An over-dependence on oil, the poor quality of health services and the lack of supervision of so called security services complete the picture.

Out of an overall population of 330 millions (which is expected to reach 400 millions in 2015) 65 millions are below a poverty line set at less than two dollars a day. Lebanon and Syria are doing relatively well with “only” 28,6% and 30% of their populations respectively below that line. Yemen is the poorest country with more than 60% and Egypt is in the middle with 41%. Unemployment rises from a low 2% in oil rich Qatar to 22% in Mauritania, but these figures do not take into account the fact that unemployment is higher among young university graduates, turning them into a strategic threat since they may turn to crime or become prey to extremist Islamic movements. Unemployment in the Arab world is twice as high as the average in the world while women’s unemployment is among the highest in the world.

There are two main factors leading to unemployment. Birthrates in Arab countries have remained high in spite of efforts to bring them down; at the same time the level of investments in industry remains low. Some of the countries enjoy huge revenues from oil or gas, but not only are these revenues not channeled to help other Arab states; they are not invested in development, education and a productive economy. They are used to build flamboyant skyscrapers and commercial centers.

Of particular concern is the situation of the ordinary citizen facing his Government. Security services in Arab countries routinely violate human rights, arrest people illegally and make widespread use of torture. Eight countries are singled out though their names are curiously withheld. The situation has gotten worse in the past few years since a number of states have enacted stringent emergency laws to fight terrorism. These laws are being abused by security services which turn them against ordinary citizens.

Regarding the condition of women, the report underlines the violence they are being subjected to both in the street and at home and the fact that the odds on their getting redress from the courts are not good. It stresses the need for appropriate legislation to protect them, such as forbidding marriage for girls under 18.

The number of refugees living in Arab countries is the highest in the world and they remain refugees longer than anywhere else. Overall figures are estimated at 18 millions – including Darfur and Palestinian refugees. Some were forced to flee their countries and others were displaced within their own country. Refugees are to be found mainly in Sudan, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Strangely enough, instead of deciding to tackle these weighty issues, Arab politicians choose to blame Israel. The Lebanese Prime Minister, Fuad Seniora, who was presenting the report, said that ”Until the Arab-Israeli conflict finds a just and definite solution we shall not be able to protect Arab citizens. There won’t be progress, the economy will remain stagnant, there won’t be development or the welfare that the Arab world so desperately needs as long as the Israeli settlement entity will keep alive the conflict it started and has been escalating for sixty years”.

Abdel Rahman Alsalah who represented the Arab league protested the fact that the report found that Palestinian children suffered because they had become part of the “resistance” (i.e, armed struggle), that is part of the fighting side. He went on to complain that the report was too lenient or did not take into account the influence of the Israeli occupation on economic progress in the Arab world; he also found fault in the fact that the report underestimated the impact of foreign intervention on the security of the citizens of Iraq, Sudan and Somalia.

There is nothing new in the report, unless it is a reminder that it would be a fallacy to view the Arab world through the prism of oil rich emirates building blinding skyscrapers under the Middle East blazing sun. The economic situation is getting from bad to worse, there is no true democracy, what human rights there were are being eroded, conflicts between countries are on the rise, the threat of terror is omnipresent – and no one sees a breakthrough. Nevertheless the Arab world does not want to admit what is happening and do something about it. It is far easier to blame Israel. Among Arab media which did write about the report, a few, a very few, did not accuse Israel of being responsible. But it was not only Arab media. Well known French daily Le Monde, which briefly summarized the report, concluded that the Arab world would not be able to progress so long as the Arab-Israeli conflict was not solved.

Why israel is responsible for the situation in the Arab world?

The representative of the Arab League blamed Israel for the problems faced by the Arab world.There is nothing new in the Arabic propaganda against Israel.
But the French daily Le Monde is expected to know better.
What brings a European newspaper to blame Israel for, lets say, the situation of women in the Arab world, the lack of democracy a and the situation of human rights.
The answer is :Anti-Semitism.

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