'Liberal' Israelis like Amnon Rubinstein have a great deal to atone for themselves; and they are clearly exploiting the 'Arab Tragedy' for their own ends. Plus of course there's no mention of how the Western countries, primarily the US since World War II, have helped build and maintain just this kind of 'client-regime' Middle East enabling them to exploit the regions resources at the expense of its people. No mention as well how Israel has encouraged and exploited this situation for so many decades, especially when it comes to keeping the Arab countries divided from themselves, the leaders divided from their people, and the whole region militarily weak enabling 'little Israel' to be the dominant power. Even so however, with all these ommisions and exploitations and crafty twists in mind, the collective 'Arab Tragedy' is real; and shinning more and more light on it is the thing to do...in this case through a 'liberal' Israeli lense:
An Arab tragedy
[Ha'aretz - 24 Sept]
Had they not been Arab scholars, the authors of a recent report on the state of the Arab countries - prepared in the context of the United Nations' Human Development Index project - would certainly have been accused of racism. It is worth examining the startling findings (all of which, unless otherwise noted, refer to the year 2000) and their ramifications, which also have relevance for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The findings are catastrophic. The Arab states are at the bottom of the Human Development Index, after the nations of South America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. One out of every five Arabs lives on less than $2 a day. Over the last 20 years, per capita gross domestic product in the Arab world has risen at an annual rate of 0.5 percent - the lowest rate in the world except for sub-Saharan Africa. In 1998, the combined GDP of all the Arab countries (more than 250 million people) was only five times greater than that of tiny Israel.
The statistics on health are shocking. Infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world: 43.5 per 1,000 in Egypt and 11.6 in wealthy Kuwait (more than twice the Israeli rate, almost twice the figure for Muslims in Israel and five times greater than the rate for Christian Arabs in Israel). The illiteracy rate is 38.7 percent - higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa. The rate of Internet access is 6.6 percent - equal to that of sub-Saharan Africa.
The report rarely mentions Israel, but when comparisons are made, they are instructive: Israel is ranked number 18 in the world in the area of technological achievement; the most developed of the Arab countries, Tunisia, is ranked 51st.
The degree to which Arab women are oppressed cries out from the pages of the report. Fifty-one percent of the women are illiterate, and only 10.5 percent attend high school. In the index that ranks women's power in society, the Arab states are near the bottom; only sub-Saharan Africa is below them. This is a chilling picture of a culture that stood at the head of the enlightened, cultured world for a millennium.
The reason for all these statistics is not natural poverty. Some of the 22 members of the Arab League covered by the report are rich in oil and other natural resources. Most have an abundance of land and water. The Arab population is not only heir to a glorious culture but is also comprised of talented individuals. The fact is that those who emigrate to the West do well; so do those in Israel, in those areas where they are permitted to do so.
What, then, is the reason for these grim statistics? Dictatorial regimes and the lack of political freedom and human rights? One survey, conducted by the American organization Freedom House, classifies countries into three categories. No Arab state is ranked as having a free system of government, and only three are ranked as partly free (Djibouti, Morocco and Jordan). All of the Arab states lack the essential characteristics of modern democracy. Their regimes do not change through elections, and in Syria power was even handed down from father to son as if it were a feudal inheritance. What has emerged in the Arab world is not only poverty and backwardness, but also the enforced imposition of the opinions of the ruling majority on minority groups, such that this world has become a unidimensional, monocultural society that hates foreigners and women - a society that hates the Other.
From this perspective, at least, there is something encouraging in the report. It proves that those values for which the enlightened public fights - the rule of law, an independent judiciary and a free press, equal rights for women and minorities - are not optional, but are rather necessary for success.
Thus Egypt, Lebanon and other states have lost the attractive Levantine quality of easygoing, Mediterranean-style pluralism. Alexandria, which was the symbol of this multiculturalism, became a devout Muslim city: The Jews and the Greeks were expelled in the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Nasser. The dens of iniquity to which the Greek poet Kavafis gave his troubled soul have disappeared, and if they existed, those who frequented them would be arrested and sentenced to imprisonment with hard labor for the crime of homosexuality. Justine, Clea and Balthazar - the heroes of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet - would no longer recognize the city. Those who dare to denounce the oppression of the Copts, such as Dr. Saad Ibrahim, are sentenced to seven years in prison.
But all this repression does not mitigate the personal distress that afflicts young Arabs: 51 percent of the teens and 45 percent of the young men and women interviewed for the report want to leave their countries. What has happened in the Arab world is the opposite of what has happened in Israel. Israel changed from a monocultural society into a pluralistic and varied one. Its young people can leave with ease, but they prefer to remain in Israel, and if necessary, even to fight for it. Arab society has taken the opposite path: Its young people want to escape the stranglehold, but are not allowed, or are unable, to do so.
By Amnon Rubinstein