Thursday, May 12, 2005

Literacy In The Arab World

The "theocratic" dictatorships in the Arab world keep clamps on their people very effectively. What most have done is set up a sort of pyramid where oil revenues come in at the top and trickle down to all of the peons at the bottom. The dictators in the Arab world have basically set up a sort of quasi-socialist society where benefits and "jobs" are given to many (especially their armies and the generals). The vast majority do not receive any benefits of the oil money - and live in conditions that would make most of us shudder.

However, many that are educated in the Arab world (this isn't many) can't find real jobs to utilize their education. A perfect example of this is in Egypt where many well educated people can be found driving cabs. The manufacturing and/or service sector simply does not exist to support masses of people looking for work, whether they are educated or not.

There is virtually no manufacturing base in the Arab world (when was the last time you bought anything that said "Made in Bahrain or Egypt"?). So they have oil and a lot of people with not much to do. And they really don't do much. Average per capita income in the Arab world is only $2100-$2300 per year! Obviously the oil income is extremely concentrated at the top and they, I assume, let just enough out to keep the masses alive and content. So you have a huge mass of people just scraping by, with a few extremely wealthy elites keeping one eye on the oil markets and one eye on the populus making sure they are placated. The exploding population in the area is not helping this situation. If we ever could move to alternative fuels efficiently this area would literally detonate - but that is a different post for a different day.

Education is the last thing on the minds of this large mass of people who are living well below the poverty line. The main concern (as it would be with me) is getting a handful of rice or barley for the pot and making sure their kids are fed as well. Ironically, education is the only way out. It is the same for poor kids in the inner cities of the USA. If the inner city kids, like most in the Arab world, could get an education they may be able to hold a job, make some money and get the hell out of there.

The problem here, of course, is that there is an easier, faster way out. Inner city kids can deal drugs or involve themselves in other illegal activity to get quick cash and support themselves. This leaves them nowhere to go but down as they age. In the Arab world, the same thing applies. Kids hear extremist organizations promise cash or paradise in the next world and these groups drum propaganda into the childrens' heads at a young age. If the kids can't read (in either the case of the inner city kid or the case of the Arab child) how can they form opinions to counter either the gang or extreme Islamist stances?

This brings me to the lack of literacy in the Arab world. In my opinion it is one of the biggest challenges the people there have in trying to emerge from under the iron hand of dictators, clerics and nutcases. If you can't read the Declaration of Independence or anything else, how can you understand that your life and the lives of others are worth a damn? Some crazed cleric who tells you that America is Satan every day of your life certainly won't bother to read you the Federalist Papers or the Magna Carta. All he will say to you is that Jews must die, Americans must die and give me some money so your family won't get cursed. And you have to believe him because you can't read and/or don't have access to non state censored TV or books or newspapers.

How far from reality for most in the Arab world this concept must be:

...That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
I understand that in many of the Arab countries the Declaration of Independence would be censored, but if you can't read it anyway, who cares? There is a reason that the students in Iran are the ones leading the moves there toward reform.

Half of all in the Arab world are illiterate. Women average even worse. A best selling book averages a run of about only 5,000 books. Five times more books are translated into Greek than Arabic. Experts say that within 15 years if something drastic doesn't happen there will be some serious and I mean catastrophic - problems in this part of the world - a virtual tinder box of illiterate, starving masses.

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