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The Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World

The Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World

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Since 1990, the United Nations Development Program has been providing annual "Human Development Reports" that set out the basic social and economic indicators for the nations of the world. The "Arab Human Development Report," which is focused exclusively on the twenty-two Arab states, provides a comprehensive and comparative examination of the region. Filled with charts, tables, and sidebars, the book provides analysis of the current situation, compares Arab performance with other world areas, and provides an agenda for action. Past AHDRs have focused on the deficits of freedom, knowledge, and women's empowerment that exist in the region; the 2004 edition focuses on freedom and good governance.

The Arab world finds itself at a historical crossroads. Caught between oppression at home and violation from abroad, Arabs are increasingly excluded from determining their own future. Freedom in its comprehensive sense, incorporates not only civil and political freedoms (in other words, liberation from oppression), but also the liberation from all factors that are inconsistent with human dignity. To be sustained and guaranteed, freedom requires a system of good governance that rests upon effective popular representation and is accountable to the people, and that upholds the rule of law and ensures that an independent judiciary applies the law impartially.

The report describes free societies, in their normative dimension, as fundamental contrasts with present-day Arab countries. The enormous gap that separates today's reality and what many in the region hope for, is a source of widespread frustration and despair among Arabs about their countries' prospects for a peaceful transition to societies enjoying freedom and good governance. Moreover, persisting tendencies in Arab social structures could well lead to spiralling social, economic, and political crises. Each further stage of crisis would impose itself as a new reality, producing injustices eventually beyond control.

The Arab world is at a decisive point that does not admit compromise or complacency. If the Arab people are to have true societies of freedom and good governance, they will need to be socially innovative. Their challenge is to create a viable mode of transition from a situation where liberty is curtailed and oppression the rule, to one of freedom and good governance that minimises social upheaval and human costs, to the fullest extent possible. History will judge this a transcendent achievement through which the region finally attained its well-deserved freedom.