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The Illusion of Progress in the Arab World

The Illusion of Progress in the Arab World: A Critique of Western Misconstructions

Galal Amin
Translated by David Wilmsen
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 170
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  • Book Info
    The Illusion of Progress in the Arab World
    Book Description:

    With the razor pen and keen intellect that have won him numerous loyal readers for his previous books, Egyptian economist Galal Amin here takes on the terms of the debate between the Arab world and the west. Amin deconstructs in his own inimitable style the language and underlying assumptions with which the west habitually assails Arab countries and politics. He applies his sharp wit and powers of observation to notions of freedom, democracy, human rights, terrorism (of course), and more, all of which fare the worse for falling under his gaze. In Amin’s view, the western concepts of progress and backwardness as they apply to the Arab world are wrong-headed, and continuing to deploy them as theoretical tools leads into all sorts of blind alleys. True to form, Amin’s analysis is laced with scholarly research, much humanity, and sly, subtle humor. His critique of the much-discussed UNDP Arab Human Development Report represents a welcome and reasoned Arab reply to this document that has been too frequently used as a cudgel to bash the Arab world. Accompanied by the gently humorous illustrations of Samir Abd al-Ghani, The Illusion of Progress in the Arab World is a deftly argued critique of the way Arab societies are judged by the west.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-056-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. iii-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The Illusion of Progress
    (pp. 1-22)

    Every age has its myths and legends. One of the myths of the modern age is the idea of progress: that human history represents a continuous movement from bad to better, as if climbing the rungs of a ladder, with every rung being not only higher but also better than the one below it. If that were truly the case, then the present must be better than the past, and the future will be better than both.

    By belief in the idea of progress, I do not mean simply a belief that with time, humans realize progress in certain things,...

  5. 2 Economic Development
    (pp. 23-29)

    Before 1950, the term ‘economic development’ was hardly ever used to describe the goal of the poorer countries of the world, and literature on the subject under any rubric was rare. This was the period of classic imperialism, characterized by the usurping of raw materials produced by the colonized countries, the exploitation of their cheap labor, and the marketing of finished products produced by the colonial countries. The goals of this kind of colonialism hardly needed any economic development in the colonized countries in the way we now understand the term (higher income, greater industrialization, higher labor productivity, etc.). In...

  6. 3 Human Development
    (pp. 31-61)

    In 1990, a U.N. agency, known as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), announced its adoption of a new system of ranking the countries of the world, according to which progress or backwardness would be measured by a combination of three indicators, namely 1) per capita income, 2) life expectation at birth, and 3) the level of education.

    The first was borrowed from the old widely used indicator of economic development; the second was chosen as an indicator of nutritional status and the state of health; and the third was included on the assumption that it measures important aspects of...

  7. 4 Freedom
    (pp. 63-74)

    In 1999 a book was published that met many of the conditions of success, but a success which is not necessarily of the best kind. The author is a prominent economist who has been active since the 1950s, first as a lecturer and then as a professor at the prestigious British university of Cambridge. During his time there, he published many books that successfully combined economics, politics, philosophy, and ethics, and his books were well received by economists, especially those working in the fields of development and economic welfare. After years of teaching at Cambridge, the author moved on to...

  8. 5 Democracy
    (pp. 75-83)

    We live in an era which boasts of the flowering of democracy. But what if the opposite is true, namely that we live in an era whose salient characteristic is the weakness that has overtaken the democratic system, even in the oldest countries in the history of democracy?

    We need not be surprised if the rhetoric is directly opposed to the facts, for this is by no means the only example. Our epoch also boasts of being the epoch of economic development, or even of human development and respect for human rights, when it is closer to being an era...

  9. 6 Capitalism
    (pp. 85-92)

    About a century and a half ago, just when the capitalist system was showing great vigor and outstanding success, Karl Marx and his colleague, Friedrich Engels, predicted the fall of capitalism. England and France had completed their industrial revolutions, Germany and the United States were on the verge of completing theirs, and classical British economists were declaring with confidence that this system based on individual incentives and competition for profit was the one to vouchsafe the wealth of nations. The basic defect of the capitalist system, according to Marx and Engels, had to do with the distribution of income and...

  10. 7 Human Rights
    (pp. 93-96)

    Human needs are indeed numerous, but human needs are one thing and human rights are another. A need does not become a right unless it is recognized as such by a group of people. In other words, to recognize a certain need as a right implies that it acquired legal status within a group of people (whether it is a nation, a tribe, a family, a union, or a club) that such a need should be met. It follows that rights may be narrower or wider than needs. You may be badly in need of something that no one recognizes...

  11. 8 The Information Revolution
    (pp. 97-108)

    On August 4, 2002, something horrible happened to two English girls, Jessica and Holly, which caused the whole country to tremble, and the British people could not stop talking about it for several weeks. When they woke up in the morning, they would remember Jessica and Holly. When they met friends, they would ask, “What is the latest news about Jessica and Holly?” When they got into taxis, they would ask the driver, “Has Huntley been charged yet?” and they could be sure that the driver would know who Huntley was and what they meant by his being charged.


  12. 9 Ethics
    (pp. 109-119)

    When the news began to come out that an effort would be made to change the religious instruction curriculum in Egyptian schools to allow ethics to replace religion as such, as well as to allow Muslim and Coptic students to attend the same classes together, read the same texts, and sit for the same examinations, I did not regard this as a good sign. An incident that happened to my father long ago leaped to my mind and kept coming back to me time after time, which created in me a feeling of unease about what the ultimate outcome of...

  13. 10 Terrorism
    (pp. 121-135)

    What a great invention! It was not a new media device like the radio or television, nor was it a new form of rapid transit like the train or airplane, nor indeed was it some new brand of weapon. No, it was merely an idea or, to be more precise, simply a word. But it was a word that could mobilize armies, promote products, reduce unemployment, unite opposed groups within a community, win elections, and justify endless military campaigns.

    The inventor cannot have been only one person, for such an invention requires the cooperation of many talented people from numerous...

  14. 11 Progress Backward?
    (pp. 137-150)

    In the 1930s, a mood of pessimism about the future of Europe and the world prevailed among European intellectuals. There were signs of the imminent outbreak of another war, while the horrible memories of the First World War and its millions of victims were still alive in people’s minds. Reports of the abuses of human rights at the hands of the Fascists in Italy and the Nazis in Germany were increasing day by day, to which were added the dreadful news of Stalinist rule in Russia, the civil war in Spain, and the persistent economic crisis and rising unemployment throughout...

  15. 12 Modernization or Reform?
    (pp. 151-158)

    Since the terrible events of September 11, talk about the need for reform in the Arab world has never ceased. Conferences have been held, lectures given, and articles written, all revolving around the necessity of reform. Indeed, even military intervention was justified by the need for reform. This talk about reform has usually been mixed up with talk about modernization, as if reform were a synonym for modernization, one inconceivable without the other. Reform in the view of most writers on the subject has implicitly been taken to mean doing what some other countries have done, or catching up with...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 159-160)