Most foreign residents who happen to live or work in the Arab region are accustomed to hear the mass majority of Arab nationals and expatriates complaining about the living conditions and sociopolitical situations of their native countries. Nowadays Arabs tend to be freer to express their frustration and condemnation of the shortsighted policies of their ruling authorities, hired and fired alike. They often criticize the absence of real human development plans, the presence of delusive reform and modernization process, and the continual dereliction of their civil liberties and human rights.
Arab people, by and large, denounce most (not to say all) long-serving politicians, monopolistic business tycoons, and all radical religious groups of their countries. They mock those we-will speeches and repetitive reform announcements of most Arab leadership and politicos as being full of false promises. They see red as they discovered that the newly installed Arab Spring governments are amateurishly recasting the corruption, dogmatism, and despotism of those deposed dictators. They wonder what Arab governments have missed in their proclaimed hunt for a developed and thriving region.
Actually, this chronic discontent has induced the many of Arabs to become furiously skeptical people as no end to their anguish is foreseen. Yet, the current Arab state of affairs has several unremarked factors that have to be equitably examined to compile the actual picture of this unsolved puzzle.
By all odds, the roots of this degradation have been crafted throughout a long history of recurring foreign occupations and colonialism, societal armed conflicts, religious fanaticism, tyranny, and misgoverning, most of which have inflicted undesirable alterations into the geopolitics, cultures, religious orientations, traditions, and the role of the native inhabitants of this antediluvian land. However, this fact is not brought forward to minify the consequences of misjudgments and mistakes of modern Arab leadership, but rather to uncloak the underlying causes and effects of these prolonged strategic disorders.
The main consequential hindrances that are facing the realization of prosperity and stability in the Arab world are connected one way or another to the continuous failure of governments to provide tangible socioeconomic development to common people, like quality higher education for free, decent paying jobs, retirement benefits and free health care to all citizens.
Indifferent to that shortcoming, most Arab officials affirm over and over to the public that their country is economically developing because of the realized growth in the size of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Whereas the largest portion of this alleged economic growth (Business Cycle is more exact) is originated either from remittance transfers, foreign aids, and inflationary effects or as a result of price increase of exported oil resources–not to mention the increase of Gross National Product (GNP).
To make things worse, these same officials continue to disregard the depressing reality of having around 40% of Arab population including oil-rich countries live below the poverty line ( over 140 million poor Arabs, according to UNHDR 2010), are not benefiting from such GDP increase to improve their living conditions. This manipulative standpoint regarding human development issues has induced many independent economic analysts and intellectuals to put emphasis on embracing the criteria of the United Nations Human Development concept.
In brief, the initial concept of human development was officially defined in the first Human Development Report (HDR-1990) of the United Nations (UN) as “a process of enlarging people’s choices. The most critical elements of these wide-ranging choices are about living a long and healthy life, acquire education and have access to the needed resources to achieve a decent standard of living; the remaining choices include political freedom, guaranteed human rights and personal self-respect”
The late Mr. Mahbub ul Haq, a Pakistani professor of economics and founder of the first HDR, premised a simple phrase “People are the real wealth of a nation”, which became ever since the guide for all human development paradigms and efforts. Prof. Ul Haq stressed that
“The basic purpose of development is to enlarge people’s choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. People often value achievements that do not show up at all, or not immediately, in income or growth figures: greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure livelihoods, security against crime and physical violence, satisfying leisure hours, political and cultural freedoms and sense of participation in community activities. The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.”
To his credit, Prof. Amartya Sen, a far-famed Indian professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University, a Nobel laureate in Economics (1998) and contributor to Prof. Mahbub Ul Haq’s work, underlined that “Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.”
On that, the essence of human development paradigm was vitiated by misconception and misgoverning of which the focus of Arab governments was directed to inflate the economy and beautify the visual image of the country. Whereas, they should have put their main efforts to develop the living conditions of the poor, impoverished low-income class and lower-middle-class before anything else, let alone creating jobs for the unemployed 50% of Arab youth.
Though the building of landmarks and mega plazas, erecting of skyscrapers, creating of oases and world-class golf courses, and the likes are necessary components in the upgrading process of any economy. Yet, Arab authorities should not ignore that the first indispensable requisite to create a prosperous and sustainable economy in this region is to develop the socioeconomic conditions of commoners.
Except for a few, most Arab governments need to initiate, the sooner the better, a real all-inclusive development process that delivers unhampered political and social freedom, equal opportunities, high-standard of public education, full retirement benefits and free quality health services to all citizens.
Otherwise, they should brace for impact.