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The Arab world's (uneven) progress

A knowledge society is budding. But further reform is needed, for the sake of American security, global prosperity, and Arab dignity.

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Mired in conflict, afflicted by joblessness, frustrated by unresponsive and oppressive governments, and flooded with images of woe, the world's 22 Arab nations have much to lament.

Yet, they are also making rapid, if insufficient, progress in building societies that will thrive in the global economy and fulfill the potential of their citizens. Their success or failure will determine the region's future. It will also influence American security for decades.

Five years ago, the United Nations published the Arab Human Development Report on Building a Knowledge Society. That widely read – and highly controversial – report found a "knowledge deficit" that threatens human development, economic growth, and the future potential of Arab societies. This week the Brookings Institution published a new study, in Arabic, that evaluates what has and has not changed since 2003.

Political instability may dominate the headlines, but advances in education, science, industry, and economic reform also deserve notice. Access to education has expanded markedly over the past five years. Jordan exceeded the international average on eighth grade science scores for the first time ever. New university campuses, including branches of world-class universities in Qatar's Education City, has enrolled more students each year for the past six years.

In science and technology, scientific publications rose. Among nine Arab countries cited in the 2003 study, patent registrations rose. Private new initiatives, like the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation, are investing billions of dollars in research and education. Arabs are embracing new technologies, such as the Internet and mobile phones.


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