Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World

In This Review

Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World

By The UN Development Programme
Stanford University Press, 2005
248 pp. $24.95

This is the third of a projected four-volume series produced by Arab intellectuals. The first, published in 2002, set out the three basic "deficits" in the Arab world: political rights, knowledge, and women's rights. The second, published in 2003, concentrated on the knowledge deficit. This report -- which the complaints of several governments delayed but never changed -- tackles the more politically sensitive deficit: the lack of individual freedom and good governance. Offering a rich and subtle compilation of facts and interpretations, it advances the striking image of the modern authoritarian Arab state as a "black hole" that makes of society "a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes." Scenarios for what might ensue include the polar opposites of "impending disaster" (no significant reform, leading to upheaval) versus internally induced peaceful change (izdihar, Arabic for "flourishing"). Seen as a more realistic option is to move forward while balancing external and internal pressures to reform. A taut 17-page executive summary provides the highlights, but many will wish to ponder the entire report: it is an impressive presentation of the Arab political condition.

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