Saudi Arabian child NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Silent Arab Majority Must Speak Up

The UNDP's 2015 Arab Human Development Report points to a widely shared liberal mindset in the Arab world, especially among young people. As war and dysfunction sow greater disenchantment in the region, Arab youth yearn for political participation, emancipation from patriarchal hierarchies, and more space for individual creativity.

ALGIERS – Since the United Nations Development Program began work on the Arab Human Development Reports (AHDR) in 2001, the situation in many Arab countries has gone from bad to worse. In fact, today the region cannot even come together to publish a new report. This is unfortunate, because finding a new shared vision for Arab people, especially Arab youth, is a prerequisite for ever achieving peace and prosperity in the Middle East and North Africa.

The first AHDR, published in 2002, identified three major “development deficits” holding the region back: knowledge, women’s empowerment, and freedom. The report, described as “written by Arabs for Arabs,” had a clear influence on the regional development narrative and the way national elites talked about the problems facing their societies.

Around the time of the first AHDR, the Arab world had reasons for optimism. Israel, having withdrawn from Lebanon in 2000, withdrew from Gaza in 2005. New Arab leaders – such as Abdullah II in Jordan, Mohammed VI in Morocco, and Bashar al-Assad in Syria – were coming to power and generating hope for change. Saudi Arabia announced its first municipal elections in 2003, and held them in 2005. Egypt and Iraq also both held (mostly) democratic elections in 2005. And Algeria’s attempt to quell longstanding civil strife was largely successful, thanks in part to high oil prices throughout this period.

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