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The Arab world's (uneven) progress

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Between 2000 and 2005, high-tech exports rose in Jordan, Morocco, and in Saudi Arabia. Egypt now employs more than 40,000 people in native and foreign information technology companies. Economies across the region have been booming, even those without oil. In an assessment of global business climates, the World Bank ranked Egypt as the world's top reformer and highlighted reforms in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Kuwait, and Djibouti.

Despite these gains, the assessment is far from rosy. Other regions are progressing even faster, leaving the Arab world behind. As a percentage of GDP, Ireland's research and development spending outpaces Jordan's by nearly 300 percent. About 18 percent of Moroccan university students study science or engineering, compared with 40 percent of Malaysians. Internet usage in Egypt jumped, but only slightly compared with Peru and Slovakia. And intraregional trade increased, but it is still half the level of Asia.

Though spending on education is high, the quality of education does not meet global standards. Students perform poorly on international tests in math and science. Universities inadequately prepare graduates for jobs. Literacy rates are low: 83 percent in Syria, 59 percent in Yemen, and 56 percent in Morocco.

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