The report, compiled by Arab intellectuals and analysts, stressed the untapped potential of knowledge across the 22-country area and slammed pan-regional curbs on both intellectual and civil liberties.
The deterioration in individual and political freedoms in the Arab world is attributed to newly enacted legislation such as the Arab Charter against Terrorism, created in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
The charter, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report says, “allows censorship, restricts access to the internet, and restricts printing and publication... the charter neither explicitly prohibits detention or torture nor provides for questioning the legality of detentions.”
The importance of letters
Education, the media and translation, considered by the authors as key channels for the distribution of information, present a picture of impotence, the report warned.
“The most important challenge facing Arab education is its declining quality,” the report said.
“You need a concerted attack on all problems facing Arab societies. Although we are concerned with the knowledge society, the package of recommendations... extends to all walks of life in Arab countries”
main author of UN report
“The mass media are the most important agents for the public diffusion of knowledge, yet Arab countries have lower information media-to-population ratios compared to the world average,” it added.
The region has fewer than 53 newspapers per 1,000 citizens, compared to 285 papers per 1,000 in developed countries. Translation, the report added, which is a salient medium of propagating information, is stagnant in the Arab world.
Persecution of journalists
A separate report earlier this week showed that Arab journalists continue to suffer, with a number of cases in the past and current year of imprisonment or detention.
“Journalists face illegal harassment, intimidation and even physical threats, censorship is rife and newspapers and television channels are sometimes arbitrarily closed down,” it reported.
“Our assessment... is that freedom in Arab countries has been assailed on more than one front,” Nadir Fergani, the report's main author, told AFP in a telephone interview.
“In the US and Europe there has been an erosion of civil and political liberties especially for Arabs and Muslims. Arab countries have taken advantage of this war on terrorism as a context to further restrict freedoms,” he added.
Though the authors of the report admitted that some improvements were taking place - the holding of elections “for the first time in decades”, and certain moves towards improving the lot of women - they also pointed to inadequacies in manufacturing and technological innovation.
The technology bubble in the West and the ever-expanding information highway have had little impact on the Arab world, the report stated.
“Imported technology has not led to its adoption and internalisation in the host country, let alone to its diffusion and production,” it said.
The shortcomings are largely explained as being the result of a “lack of innovation and knowledge-production systems and the lack of rational policies that ingrain those essential values and institutional frameworks that support a knowledge society.”
“In Arab countries there has been an illusion that importing commodities, factories and equipment... would automatically transfer knowledge or the technology embedded in the commodities to Arab societies, which has not happened,” said Fergani.
Research and Development
He added that in order to achieve effective transfer technologies socities have to have active research and development activities.
“In the Arab world there aren't mechanisms and systems and the training to ensure proper absorption”
Ramzi Abd al-Jabir, chief executive: MENAFN.com
One of the most important aspects of technology transfer is absorption, said Ramzi Abd al-Jabir, chief executive of MENAFN.com, an online financial portal.
“You can transfer as much as you want, but it doesn't mean diddly if no one is absorbing it. In the Arab world there aren't mechanisms and systems and the training to ensure proper absorption,” he said.
It is a fact that the knowledge gap between the Arab world and more developed countries is widening.
The only way, the report argued, that the gap can be bridged is through active investment in education and a real desire to bolster human capital.
Fergani, however, said “there is hope but not in the short range. Any meaningful development in Arab countries will have to be long range and a rather serious social project.”
“You need a concerted attack on all problems facing Arab societies. Although we are concerned with the knowledge society, the package of recommendations... extends to all walks of life in Arab countries,” he added.