How many educated people are there in the Arab world? I may be late in asking this question, but the situation in the Arab world today makes asking it pivotal and essential. The gap between Arab countries is increasing noticeably, especially as some of these countries deal with scientific advances on a daily basis. However, there are other countries that still know nothing about technology, and others still that are in the grip of illiteracy.
Different book exhibitions in Arab countries are a stark indicator of the Arabs’ reading impediment in these countries. So what are the reasons behind this problem?
One may wonder if the problem is essentially political, due to the inability of political systems over the past 50 years to rid the Arab world of illiteracy. This is also enhanced with the charlatans we see on different Arab TV channels which is an additional pointer to the prevalent superstition and ignorance, and there are so many people that interact with these channels.
One may also wonder if the problem is social, meaning that the community does not give importance to higher education; sadly many consider fat bank accounts as the standard when evaluating the status of an individual. Hence, whoever has money can climb from the bottom of the social ladder to the top at the speed of lightning. Such people become famous in no time at all; people wish to marry off their daughters to them.
The economic aspect has a great impact on the life of a community. China, for instance, has jumped to first place internationally while Europe and the US suffer financial and social problems, which may well be among the reasons behind increased unemployment. These advanced countries are no longer able to extend welfare benefits to their nationals, especially if we take into consideration that accumulated financial debts have broken the backs of former empires.
None of these countries were able to envisage the rise of the dragon from the East. The East made use of the scientific advances of the West and worked on copying these advances. At the same time, the East has plenty of young people that form an integral part of the working population.
It also has important raw materials.
It is essential to mention that oil is very important in our world, and many industries are dependent on this resource. China imports oil from Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing countries. It also exports its moderately priced merchandise to these countries. With time, joint interests have grown between China and the oil-exporting countries.
Once again it comes to mind that Arab countries have everything that it takes to become developed nations. However, some of these countries have political, economic and social problems.
A look at Egypt, Syria and Libya will show that they are going through one of the most critical times in their history; hence opening up to other countries was not beneficiary to them, nor was the change in the form of governance. Political movements have played a negative role in these countries.
Once, during the days of former Egypt president Jamal Abdul Nasser, a Muslim Brotherhood member demanded that all women in Egypt be veiled. The demand was made to seem as though it was a call from the masses, but in reality, people were only asking for education, jobs and food security to be free from western control.
Wasn’t the Sudan the Arab food basket? Couldn’t it have started a new industrial era among Arab countries? Sudan could have easily made use of all the Arab working hands and labourers working in western countries.
Sadly, Arabs blew their chance. Arab scientists and specialists immigrated to the West for fear of despotism in their original countries. Will it be of any use if we stress that military coups have turned the lives of Arabs upside down and transformed their lives into an inferno, to the extent that Arabs today yearn for former monarchies and other forms of government?
The middle class is the security valve of society; it is also the educated class. We continue stressing on the importance of education and its development. So will we continue to stress on the importance of education after financial revenues increase?
Dr Mohammad Abdullah Al Mutawa is a professor of sociology.