International

The Arab world: besieged by modernity

I have an article in the Sunday Times magazine on the need for a new ‘Ijtihad’, intellectual renewal, in the Arab world.

The Arab world is in crisis, besieged by modernity. No fully sovereign Arab state is a democracy with meaningful independent institutions where power passes peacefully by popular vote. Economies are sclerotic, but human-rights abuses are flourishing. The internet and globalisation are not opportunities, but threats. The Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman was jailed in 2007 for four years for insulting Islam and President Hosni Mubarak. His trial lasted five minutes.

South Korea and Taiwan export more manufactured goods in two days than Egypt in a year; 35% of Cairenes live in slums; in Saudi Arabia, up to 30% of people live in poverty. Since 1950 the Arab population has risen from 79m to 327m, but real wages and productivity have barely moved since 1970.

Intellectual life is atrophying. More books are translated into Spanish in a year than have been translated into Arabic in the past 1,000, states the UN’s Arab Human Development Report. The authors trace much of the region’s problems back to Arab society’s methods of child-rearing (“the authoritarian accompanied by the overprotective”) which, they argue, “affects how the child thinks by suppressing questioning, exploration and initiative”. All of which perfectly suits the Arab world’s leaders and corrupt bureaucratic elites.

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