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Arab Advancement in the 21st Century

Our key facts on the Arab world, its culture, its religion — and its inhabitants.

August 23, 2002

Our key facts on the Arab world, its culture, its religion — and its inhabitants.

The Arab region spreads over 22 countries — from Oman in the Middle East to Morocco in Northern Africa. Its peoples display a remarkable diversity, ranging from the Berber hill tribes to the Bahrain city dwellers. To study this region's potential, the United Nations published a report on Arab Human Development. Our Globalist Factsheet presents the most intriguing facts on Arab countries.

What is the state of education?

As of 2000, out of a total population of 284 million, 65% of adults in Arab countries are illiterate — two-thirds of them women.

How has women's literacy developed?

Between 1970 and 2000, women’s literacy rates in Arab countries have increased threefold. Still, over 50% of women in Arab countries are illiterate.

Beyond education, what is the situation for women in Arab countries?

As of 2001, among the regions of the world, the Arab region ranks next to last as measured by the UNDP’s gender empowerment measure. This index covers 143 countries — and only sub-Saharan Africa has a lower score.

In view of the historically famous Arab scientists, how much do Arab countries currently contribute to research?

As of 2001, the production of scientific papers in the Arab region is within the range of leading third-world countries.

Does that mean Arabic cultural life is stagnating?

As of 2003, the Arab population makes up 5% of the world population — but only produces 1.1% of the world’s books.

How inventive are Arabs?

Between 1980 and 1999, the nine leading Arab economies registered 370 patents in the United States for new inventions. In contrast, South Korea alone registered 16,328 patents for inventions during that same period.

What about computer usage?
As of 2003, only 18 out of 1,000 people in the Arab region have a computer, compared to the global average of 78.3 out of 1,000 people.

How does Arab economic growth compare to that of the rest of the world?

In 2002, the GDP of the 22 Arab states together is less than that of Spain at $838 billion.

Are Arab exports important to the global economy?

Throughout the 1990s, exports from Arab countries grew at 1.5% annually — far below the global growth rate of 6%.

What is the biggest export product for Arab countries?

As of 2002, oil and oil-related products accounted for over 70% of exports from Arab countries.

How is the job situation for Arabs?

As of 2000, average unemployment in Arab countries stood at about 15% — one of the highest rates in the developing world.

What puts additional pressure on the labor market?

As of 2001, population growth in Arab countries is adding about six million labor-force entrants every year, a rate that is proportionately greater than in any other region.

What about poverty?

As of 2001, while Arab countries have the lowest level of dire poverty in the world, one out of every five people lives on less than $2 per day.

How do Arab youth view their region’s future?

As of 2001, 51% of older Arab youths expressed a desire to emigrate to other countries. European countries were the favorite destination, followed by the United States and Canada.

What is the state of health in Arab countries?

As of 2001, Arab infant mortality rate ranges from a low of 10.2 per 1,000 in Qatar to a high of 75.3 for Yemen.

How does that compare globally?

As of 2001, only two Arab countries — Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates) have managed to reduce maternal mortality to a level that is low by international standards (not more than five per 100,000 live births)

But what is the overall picture regarding mortality rates?

The Arab region was the first region in the developing world where most countries reduced mortality rates of children under the age of five to the target of 70 per 1,000 by 1990 — well ahead of the global goal.

Is the water shortage in the region severe?

As of 2001, the World Bank has identified 22 countries that are below the water poverty line — defined as those that have less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year. Of those 22 countries, 15 are Arab.

And finally, is U.S. diplomacy ready for the Arab world?

As of November 2003, of the 279 Arabic-speaking U.S. State Department employees, less than 60 of them are fluent — and only five of these are proficient enough to comment on Middle Eastern television programs.