Some Aspects of the Arab Human Development Report 2003 as Read by a European Scholar

By Dumortier, Brigitte | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Some Aspects of the Arab Human Development Report 2003 as Read by a European Scholar


Dumortier, Brigitte, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


SINCE 1990, THE UNITED NATIONS Development Programme has published every year a World Report on Human Development. The UNDP is the UN's global development network, which advocates for changes and connects countries to help people build a better life. Considering that people are the true wealth of nations (F. Harbison, 1973), it maintains that human development is a process expanding human choices. Therefore it regards freedom as a requirement for human development since it is a condition for the exercise of choice (A. Sen, 1999).

As globalization, paradoxically requires us to put the emphasis on the territorial dimension of development, the UNDP has a growing number of regional, subregional, national and subnational reports. As 35 among those national and subnational reports were devoted to 17 Arab countries, it was due time to produce a report covering the 22 Arab countries and to discuss their specific development problems individually and as a group. The first issue of the Arab Human Development Report was published in 2002. It was co-sponsored by the UNDP, Regional Bureau for Arab States and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development. This inaugural AHDR subtitled "Creating Opportunities for future Generations" has been followed by a second issue. published in 2003, subtitled "Building a Knowledge Society."

As well as being a descriptive and analytical presentation of the Report, the aim of this paper is to place it in a wider context by encouraging a critical reflection on both the conceptual and methodological background.

A REPORT WRITTEN BY ARABS FOR ARABS

The aim of the report

In a crucial second chapter, the AHDR 2002 identifies three deficits affecting the Arab world: a deficit of freedom, a deficit in women's empowerment and a deficit in knowledge. But, the Report 2002 not only delivers a clear diagnosis of the state of human development in the Arab region, it also makes recommendations and proposals to achieve a better level of development. For instance, in the field of knowledge, Chapter five deals with the reinforcement of human capacities through education while the aim of Chapter six is the enhancement of human development towards a society of knowledge. As the quality of the educational system and the importance given to research or the access to information technologies appear as important development challenges, it is not surprising that the AHDR 2003 focuses on the building of a knowledge society.

The authors of the report, a team of Arab intellectuals and development specialists, have chosen to examine in depth the status of knowledge in the Arab region. The choice of this theme is not only due to the fact that knowledge is the most instrumental of the three components of the original strategy, the two others being, as already said, women's empowerment and freedom advancement. In the foreword, the Regional Director of the UNDP for Arab States, Rima Khalaf Humaidi, emphasises that "Knowledge increasingly defines the line between wealth and poverty, between capability and powerlessness and between human fulfilment and frustration." The Report is also foreworded by the Director General and Chairman of the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, Abdel Latif Youssef El Hamed. On the subject of knowledge in the Arab world he speaks of "its organic relationship with human development, its pivotal role in promoting it and its significance as one of the essential pursuits of humanity."

The Contents Of The Report

The Report opens with a rich executive summary. Those first 16 pages of a more than 200 pages document allow us to have a comprehensive view of the contents of the Report, its main themes and conclusions. It also gives a clear idea of the strategy recommended by the report team. The Report itself. consisting of an introduction and nine chapters, seems at first glance organized in two disproportional parts. Part I (pages 17 to 31) gives an up to date state of human development in Arab countries. …

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