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 The Challenges of Globalization and the Muslim World    by Professor A. R. Momin

The economic and technological wilderness

The economic and social scenario in most Muslim countries is defined by low or stagnant growth, low productivity, wide income disparities, wasteful military expenditure, injudicious management of resources, heavy burden of debts, escalating unemployment rates, rising inflation, and inefficient and insensitive administration. The GDP of all Arab states combined stood at $531.2 billion in 1999, less than that of a single middle-size European country, Spain ($595.5 billion). There is no dearth of resources in the Muslim world. There are 18 major oil-producing countries in the world, of which 10 are Muslim, which produce nearly 40% of the world's oil. Much of the oil revenue goes into the personal accounts of the ruling elite or in defence expenditure, including the purchase of military hardware, the maintenance of foreign troops stationed in some Muslim countries, and the professional services provided by foreign military personnel. The 1994 Human Development Report pointed out that the top five arms-exporting countries, who are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, are together responsible for 86% of all conventional weapons exported. Muslim countries are among the biggest clients of arms-exporting countries. They spend, on an average, 10% to 30% of their GDP on defence. Ironically, after World War II there has been no major armed conflict between Muslim countries and the Western world. On the other hand, Muslim countries have fought several wars among themselves, which led to the killing of 1.5 million Muslims and injury to thousands. It is estimated that the foreign debts of Muslim countries account for over thirty per cent of the world's debts.

There are 22 Arab states with 280 million people, who constitute about 5% of the global population. The Arab Human Development Report 2002 revealed that one in five Arabs-20% of the population-still lives on less than $2 a day. Nearly 15% of the labour force is unemployed. According to an International Labour Organization study, of the 88 million unemployed males between 15 and 24 years worldwide, almost 26% are in the Middle East and North Africa (quoted by Thomas Friedman: The World is Flat, 2005, p.198).

Muslims constitute nearly 20% of the world's population, but Muslim countries account for only 4% of world trade. The share of Muslim countries in foreign direct investment (FDI) is negligible. None of the Arab countries, for example, figures among the top ten FDI-attracting countries in the developing world.

The digital divide between the industrialized countries and the Third World is strikingly evident in large parts of the Muslim world. According to the Arab Human Development Report 2002, the number of telephone lines in the Arab world is barely one-fifth of that in the developed countries. Access to digital media in the Arab world is among the lowest in the world. There are just 18 computers per thousand people in the region, compared to the global average of 78.3 per thousand people. Only 1.6 per cent of the population in the Arab world has Internet access. International patenting provides an index of a country's technological progress. Hewlett-Packard, the world's leading patenting agency, registers on an average 11 new patents a day. Between 1980 and 1999, Arab countries produced 171 international patents while South Korea alone registered 16,328 patents during the same period.

The Arab Human Reports of 2002, 2003 and 2004 tell a sad story of failed planning, lack of vision and strategy and developmental decline. One inescapable conclusion that emerges from the reports is that the Arab world is in deep decline, even relative to the developing countries. The story in respect of the rest of the Muslim world is not substantially different.

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