Palestinians suffered from a shortage of financial resources after the
induction of Hamas-led government indicates the extent to which Muslims
are willing to help each other in times of need. If not for Hamas,
financial assistance should have poured in to keep the Palestinian
systems up and running for none other than the Palestinians themselves.
Except for some assistance from one or two Muslim countries, the
oil-rich Muslim world by and large virtually looked the other way from
the Palestinians when the Western financiers chose to bring the Hamas
government down by withdrawing most financial help.
War on terror notwithstanding, the influential oil-rich Muslim
governments could have pushed for a quicker resolution. Own external
relationships to keep own regimes propped up gain salience as
relationships with the West are preferred to concerns for fellow
Muslims inside or outside the country.
Having said it, the meeting of the second World Islamic Economic Forum
early November 2006 in Islamabad is a welcome occasion. At least, there
is a desire of Muslims to cooperate with each other. And, at least,
they see why and how the Muslims across the world may come together for
It was said in the Forum that the Muslim regions endowed with abundance
of natural resources and human capital should be able to turn them over
into development for all. Having delineated this broad goal, there is a
need to identify the issues that need to be dealt with before this
dream is realised. For, issue awareness and issue formulation are
amongst the first steps towards the development of solutions.
First, it is important to strike common ground on the meaning of
development. Development is human development as is also now outlined
in all UNDP human reports. Human development is to enlarge the range of
choices. Development of humans is, therefore, development “of the
people, for the people, and by the people.” This encompasses the
concept of empowerment of people so that they feel effective in
steering the course of their own lives.
It, therefore, goes considerably beyond income distribution and poverty
alleviation. Even poverty is no longer truly gauged only by incomes and
consumption. For, other manifestations of poverty could appear also in
the form of shortage of property, assets, public goods, dignity, and
Just like poverty measurement has moved on from one or two indicators
to a multidimensional measure; similarly human development now
encompasses social, economic, and political freedoms enjoyed by all
regardless of race, colour, religion, and gender. This is the target of
development that the Muslim world must shoot for.
However, when Muslims from various countries get down to discuss
development, their scope is limited to trade, industry, science, and
technology. And, they mostly measure development still by
industrialisation, GDP growth rate, trade as percentage of GDP, and
developments in science and technology.
A lot of ink has been consumed to show that growth rates may not flow
down and scientific development may not necessarily translate into
human development. First, it is this mindset that the likely Muslim
cooperatives need to address.
There is one nuclear power amongst the Muslim world and there is
another one headed in that direction. However, none of these two
countries score high on human development and poverty. One of these two
had thrown up a Nobel Laureate in Physics, his lack of recognition in
the country notwithstanding. The other one of these two countries is
also undertaking stem cell research and is trying to clone sheep. This
country has lofty scientific research ambitions towards which it is
impelled to move regardless of the odds.
Their passionate pursuit of their scientific goals is indeed
commendable and one can only wish them Godspeed! But one longs to also
see good indicators in that country on employment, income distribution,
poverty eradication, freedom of socio-economic choice regardless of
gender, diversity of industrial and economic base, and freedom of
political choice for all men and women alike, to name a few. It will be
only then that this country will be called developed not just on the
basis of its scientific advances.
Many other Muslim countries are not even headed towards any scientific
advance. They seek it desperately to show performance and seek
recognition on this count at least so that it may serve as a fig leaf
for all the weaknesses that they must conceal.
According to the Arab Human Development Report, AHDR (2002), income
inequalities in Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan increased in the last two
decades. Poverty rose in Egypt and Jordan in the 1990s.
Despite the nuclear and scientific advances of some Muslim countries
and the oil-wealth of the Muslim world in general, there is a huge
economic gap between the Muslim and the non-Muslim countries that needs
to be bridged.
Can this gap, however, be bridged by adhoc policy measures aimed only
at convergence with the West on a few counts or should closing this gap
be even aimed at when there are huge intra-Muslim country gaps that
need to be closed? Clearly, if human development is to be aimed at, the
intra-Muslim country disparities must first be reduced meaningfully
Muslim forums must, therefore, clearly prioritise the goals. Human
development, fist and foremost, requires actions by Muslim national
governments in which process they should be helped by other Muslim
countries. Muslim forums must outline the cooperation that is needed
generally and specifically to help individual Muslim countries and
bridge intra-country gaps to realise the goal of human development for
The issue then boils down to sound policy formulation and
implementation, that is, governance and good governance that includes
representation; rule of law and judiciary; efficient and effective
institutions; competent public administration and effective service
delivery; and local participation through local governments, media, and
civil society organisations.
And, all of this is required to ensure transparency and accountability
in a bid to achieve human development uniformly throughout the Muslim
societies. Not all of these traits are, however, found in all the
For, the overarching issue is one of regime perpetuation and status quo
on all those fronts whose transformation will initiate movement towards
human development. Too much of civil society participation is
considered a threat to autocratic regimes’ security.” The voice of the
people is thus kept stifled and all linkages external and internal are
built to reinforce the regime.
The rest of the world capitalises on this insecurity and may push its
aims without a real concern for the development of Muslim societies.
The core-core networks are thus strengthened not just across the Muslim
world but across the whole world with common Muslims bypassed in the
process. Actually, this is now one of several reassons fuelling unrest
and instability in the world which the world must begin to see and
remedy before it is too late.
The Muslim governments, therefore, need to change their outlook too.
What they view as reinforcement of regime/status quo may prove to be a
transient phenomenon if the unrest simmering beneath and over the
surface grows big enough to destabilise all that there is in Muslim
countries. Greater participation of the people should be sought in
determining and prioritising development goals. People must be actively
involved in the process of development across the Muslim world so that
there is a convergence not just within and across the Muslim countries
but also with the non-Muslim world eventually.