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2 Aug, 2009

Freedom From Fear is Key Challenge For Arab Nations

Originally Published: 2 Aug 2009

If anyone is wondering why the Arab countries, with all their financial power, energy resources and rich culture and heritage, are failing so miserably in attaining peace, prosperity and justice for their peoples at large, and the occupied Palestinian people in particular, they should read the 2009 Arab Human Development Report launched in Beirut on 21 July 2009.

Entitled “Challenges to Human Security in the Arab countries,” the report’s central treatise is that freedom from fear is equally as important as the freedom from want and that “the security of the citizen (is a) fundamental condition for the security of the State.”

Said Mrs. Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. and Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States, “While human development calls for broadening the choices and freedom of people, human security reminds us that this noble objective is based on the protection of people’s lives, basic rights and human dignity from any breach.”

She added, “These noble human values rest at the core of the great religions that were cradled in this region. And this lofty appeal forms the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom from fear and freedom from want are the very essence of human security, and the pursuit of these freedoms is the beating heart of every page of this report.”

Right at the outset, the report’s preface sought to establish its credibility, objective and positioning. It “has the authority of having been written about the region by a team of independent Arab scholars, policy analysts, and practitioners from the region.” A team of 100 Arab young people were also involved in crafting it.

It is not an official UN publication but an independent one, as is the case with all the Human Development Reports published by the UNDP. In that sense, the report stressed that it does not reflect the view of the UN, the UNDP nor the Arab governments. And its objective is to provide “a platform for debate which refects the way in which a number of the most pressing development challenges are seen by some of those who live them day-in and day-out.”

The Arab region comprises the Arabic-speaking countries from Mauritania to Oman, and Beirut was chosen as the launchpad, not just because it lies right at the geographical centre.

Mrs. Alsoswa described Beirut, as “this lush literary oasis – the World Book Capital of 2009” and Lebanon a country “synonymous with freedom, harmony and solidarity” which only last month held peaceful elections, “proving again to themselves and the international community that democracy and peace are possible in our region and that Lebanon can play a pioneering role in this regard.”

She noted that this latest report completes a series that have been produced since 2002. These reports “have stimulated creative research on development and ways to improve the quality of life of the Arab peoples. And they have helped us sharpen our resolve to continue to make progress together. The report we hold in our hands today is intended to deepen this impact.”

The starting point for the 2009 Report was the perception that the obstacles in the way of a secure and prosperous future for the Arab peoples have grown more complex and intractable in recent years.

“As a result, the pursuit of human development in our countries has begun to falter. It was thus necessary to extend the type of scrupulous, objective and self-critical analysis that these reports are known for to the precipitous situation of the region as we approach the end of the first decade of the new millennium.”

“Indeed, the past four years have been quite unlike any other period in our recent history, presenting new challenges and aggravating old ones while heightening a sense of insecurity.”

In the face of this, Mrs Alsoswa said, “We maintain our steadfast belief that only we Arabs can decide where we want to go and how we might arrive there. The best equipment we can take on this journey is our capacity for honest self-analysis and intellectual enquiry, together with our intimate knowledge of our own culture, history, values and individual country circumstances.

“If at times it seems to speak sharply about our shortfalls, it does so in the belief that self-knowledge makes us stronger, not weaker: it is the power that enables us to map our own future with confidence.”

Mrs Alsoswa noted that the challenges facing the Arab world have been complicated by the collapse of the international financial system and the long-term impact of climate change.

The financial crisis “has disrupted the revenues, investments and growth models of the oil producers of our region” while in the other Arab countries, “the knock-on effects include dwindling remittances, surging unemployment, and receding public services.”

“Some of these countries had opened their economies to market forces without adequate safeguards, and now find themselves exposed without rules of the road for this unfamiliar terrain. Compared to the 1990s, many more Arabs now see the spectre of want approaching their door.”

In addition, the region “is also facing extremely complicated circumstances due to external military interventions as well as internal conflicts in many of our countries. She cited “the intensification of the economic blockade on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and, most recently, a devastating intervention in Gaza.”

“None of us will forget the images of the innocent victims — the women, the children and the elderly. And none of us will be oblivious to the daily violence and chaos in Somalia and other countries. The greatest damage from these events has been inflicted on people in the directly affected countries, but the harm also reaches their neighbours, countries that today are saddled with refugee camps. Our region hosts more refugees and internally displaced persons than any other in the world.”

Finally, Mrs. Alsoswa referred to the “richness of our … youth, the young men and women who in some countries account for as much as 60% of the population.”

“Every development enterprise we attempt, every capability we build and every opportunity we create must be for them, our living future. We owe them greater security, better choices and a more empowering political, social, economic and natural environment. We owe them human security.”

She also had a message for Arab governments.

“Some will ask if human security implies a compromise of state security. The report is unequivocal that it does not. Rather the report proves irrefutably that human security and State security are two sides of the same coin. When human security is guaranteed, not only will human development be strengthened, but the State will stand to benefit as well.

“Indeed, the state that enables human security is the state that will also be able to benefit from the sustainability of its environmental resources, from esteem in the eyes of the citizens, and from the diverse talents of all parts of society.

“The state that provides for human security will also be the state whose economy will stand firmly in the face of international fluctuations, whose markets will deliver on food security, and whose institutions will enable full enjoyment of public health. And, last but not least, the state that enables human security is the state that can more rapidly recover from conflict, and, indeed, is the state that stands a better chance to avert conflict altogether.”

This, she added, “is the vision that drives the report’s consideration of seven key dimensions that affect people’s lives: environmental security, the state’s performance in guaranteeing human security, the personal security of vulnerable groups, economic security, nutrition and food security, health and human security, and the impact of conflict and occupation on human security.

“The fundamental message of the report is that the only way to sustainably make progress in any one of these areas is indeed to address them all. The human security framework requires us to take a holistic approach to all aspects of human development.

Mrs Alsoswa concluded, “If our contribution can help to mobilise the abundant intellectual and human capital and strong political will that the Arab peoples possess …then we will have succeeded in making the contribution we sought to make when we embarked upon this process two years ago.”

The report can be downloaded in full from www.undp.org.