NGOs are hobbled by legal and administrative obstacles laid in their path by authorities deeply suspicious of what they might be.
Little, for instance, links secular Tunisia and Islamic Saudi Arabia except for their common refusal to give a dissident voice a hearing.
Nor are foreign books much translated: in the 1,000 years since the reign of the Caliph Mamoun, say the authors, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in one year.
Governments and societies (and sometimes, as in Kuwait, societies and parliamentarians are more backward than their governments) vary in the degrees of bad treatment they mete out to women.But most secularists believe that the pervasive Islamisation of society, which in several Arab countries has largely replaced the frightening militancy of the 1980s and early 1990s, has played a significant part in stifling constructive Arab thought.From their schooldays onwards, Arabs are instructed that they should not defy tradition, that they should respect authority, that truth should be sought in the text and not in experience.But in nearly all Arab countries, women suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements.It is these roulette wheel words deficits, they argue, that hold the frustrated Arabs back from reaching their potentialand allow the rest of the world both to despise and to fear a deadly combination of wealth and backwardness.Adult illiteracy rates have declined but are still very high: 65m adults are illiterate, almost two-thirds of them women.People are given jobs not because of what they know, but because of whom they know.Emmy and the Emmy Statuette are the Trademark Property Of atas/natas.A country can have one or two of these deficits, says Clovis Maksoud, a respected Lebanese involved in the report's preparation, and still surge ahead.The region has the largest proportion of young people in the world38 of Arabs are under 14and it is calculated that the population will top 400m in 20 years' time.After all, even though women's literacy rates have trebled in the past 30 years, one in every two Arab women still can neither read nor write.Not having enough of these amounts to what the authors call the region's three deficits.But they also suffer from internal weaknesses, often getting their money either from foreign sources, which adds to the suspicions, or from the government, which defeats the object of their creation.But the text studiously avoids specificity, except to point out where some country or other is doing rather better.This is the programme's first comprehensive look at a separate region.
With Nader Fergany, an Egyptian sociologist, as the chief author, the report carefully dissects and analyses the Arab world's strengths and failings.But when the imperialists were gone, the new independent governments often aped their old colonial administrations (not the European governments behind these administrations) by adopting their characteristics of extreme centralisation, very little separation of power between different branches of government, and a generally paternalistic attitude.But now, it seems, they hold sway, discouraging critical thought and innovation and helping to produce a great army of young Arabs, jobless, unskilled and embittered, cut off from changing their own societies by democratic means.Freedom of expression and freedom of association are both sharply limited.Nationalism was drummed into people, leaving little room for thoughts of personal freedom.Why it all went wrong.
Democracy is occasionally offered, but as a concession, not as a right.