The Arab Human Development Report 2003 said readership of books was limited, education dictated submission rather than critical thought, and the Arabic language was in a state of crisis.

Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, the UN assistant secretary general and regional director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Arab states said educational opportunities were being further limited as a post-September 11 anti-Arab backlash made young Arabs retreat from studying in the United States.

Arab student numbers in the United States dropped between 1999 and 2002 by an average 30%, Hunaidi added.

Outdated universities

The UN report that focused on addressing challenges of modernity illustrated how far the 270 million Arabs lagged behind other regions in "acquisition of knowledge".

The report said even a best selling novel sold on average only 5000 copies compared to hundreds of thousands elsewhere.

In general, the usual print run for novels ranges from a meagre 1000 to 3000 copies. The number of books published in the Arab world did not exceed 1.1% of world production though Arabs constitute 5% of the world population.

It cited official educational curricula in Arab countries that "bred submission, obedience, subordination and compliance rather than free critical thinking."

No more than 10,000 books were translated into Arabic over the entire millennium, equivalent to the number translated every year into Spanish.

The UN also touched on the state of Arab universities, decrying lack of autonomy and the direct control of governments that ran them on political whims.

Arab universities were overcrowded with old laboratories and poor libraries. Enrolment figures were a political gesture to appease society more than a product of educational needs.

Book drought

The Arabic language was in crisis, as it confronted the challenges of globalisation. No more than 10,000 books were translated into Arabic over the entire millennium, equivalent to the number translated every year into Spanish.

Research and Development in the Arab world did not exceed 0.2% of Gross National Product (GNP). Fewer than one in 20 Arab university students were pursuing scientific disciplines, compared to one in five in South Korea.

The number of telephone lines in Arab countries was barely one fifth of that in developed countries.

Access to digital media was also among the lowest in the world. There are 18 computers per 1000 people compared to a global average of 78. Only 1.6% of over 270 million Arabs have internet access, one of the lowest ratios in the world, the report said.