Knowledge gap is 'now widening'

The economic downturn is likely to exacerbate the "knowledge deficit" of the Arab world, according to the author of a report released yesterday.

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DOHA // The economic downturn is likely to exacerbate the "knowledge deficit" of the Arab world, slowing the progress achieved since the problem was first identified in 2003, according to the author of a report released yesterday. While there were advances in the intervening years in education, government investment in research, technological innovation and knowledge-based industries such as media, a widening gap has been identified between this region and the rest of the world, it is claimed.

The report, published in June in English and released in Arabic yesterday at the UN-Islamic World Forum in Doha, was designed as a follow-up to the United Nations Development Programme's controversial Arab Human Development Report of 2003, which first identified the "deficit" in the region. Kristin Lord, a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institution, said that while her report, A New Millennium of Knowledge?, recognised that more oil wealth stayed in the region to support education, research, innovation and productive industry, unemployment remained higher in the Arab world than in any other region, particularly among the young.

She said: "The financial crisis happening only makes it more important to address these issues because there are 100 million jobs that need to be created for young people by 2020. That's even more urgent in a period where there's not economic growth. It also becomes much harder, because there are fewer resources to do these things with. So, as bad as the situation was back in June, it's actually significantly more difficult now.

"The progress that has been made, if you compared the last five years to the region's history, just looking in a vacuum, is really something to be quite proud of. But if you actually compare the region to the rest of the world, you get tremendously worried because the progress in the region was completely dwarfed by the progress in other regions." However, the report noted that the UAE has been a leader in the region in diversifying its economy, citing the establishment of Dubai Media City and Dubai Internet City as examples.

Ms Lord also mentioned Qatar's Education City, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation's funding for research and education, and Kalima, an Abu Dhabi-based translation initiative, as "glimmers of hope" that she came across in her research. Dr Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian social scientist and democracy activist, said: "The report pointed out how little translation of knowledge there was to the Arabic language, so now we have at least three important organisations doing translation - one in Beirut, one in Cairo and one in the UAE," he said. "That is heartening."