In Morocco almost half the population is illiterate and the majority seems to be women.

 

However, the statistics in Egypt are a lot more striking.

Although Egypt has a mid-range overall illiteratacy rate, a considerable 71 per cent who are illiterate are women and only 29 per cent are men.

 

Case study

 

Adult Literacy Rates
in the Middle East
Kuwait

93.3%

Palestine

92.4%

Qatar

89.0%

Bahrain

86.5%

Oman

81.4%

Saudi Arabia

79.4%

Iraq

74.1%

Egypt

71.4%

Morocco

52.3%

Mauritania

51.2%

Source: UNESCO 2000
Mariam Haroon was one of around 14 million Egyptians over the age of ten unable to read or write.

Her parents couldn't afford to send her to school and she remained illiterate until she was a teenager.

 

 "I worked with my father cultivating the land. I enviously watched other girls as they attended school or literacy classes.

"I was ten at the time. I was told I can not join these classes until I become 14. At 14 I started and here I am now, " Haroon said.

 

Her childhood experiences are similar to many Egyptians and Arabs.

 

Education for all

 

According to the 2006 UNESCO world literacy monitoring report, there are between 65 and 70 million adults in the Arab world over the age of 15 who can't read or write. More than half of those are women and the vast majority live in rural areas.

 

The UNESCO Education for All Initiative aims at improving the adult literacy rate by fifty per cent within a decade. But it's not all about reading and writing.

 

"I had decision-making lessons. That transformed my character completely from a girl who did never think and always did what she was told to do, into a girl who decides for herself and her family.

 

"My father used to smack me if I discussed his orders. Now he tells me do what you want. I trust your judgment", Haroon said.

 

In the Arab World, Kuwaitis and Palestinians have the highest literacy rate.

The Arab Gulf States in general fall into the top category while Egypt and Algeria come in the Middle.

Iraq used to fall in that group till the year 2000. The figures haven't been updated since. Morocco and Mauritania have the lowest rates. No figures are available for Somalia.

 

Education experts say the current Arab governmental efforts to improve literacy rates are not enough

 

Rifaat Fayadh, from Egypt's Akhbar El-Youm newspaper: "Literacy is not mandatory now. It must be. Illiterates must be obliged to take literacy classes. Those who are educated must teach the illiterates. Otherwise the illiteracy percentage will continue rising".