CAIRO, Egypt – An Arab intellectual charges that the United States and Egypt are keeping the United Nations from publishing a critical survey of the state of the Arab world he helped write, so he is getting it to the public himself.
Since the United Nations Development Program (search) sponsored the first one in 2002, the annual report on Arab development has met passionate responses — pro and con — because of its unusual frankness and willingness to challenge the status quo. The 2004 edition, titled "Freedom and good governance in the Arab world," was due in October but has yet to be issued by the UNDP.
Its authors say "Freedom and good governance in the Arab world" ran into trouble because of its sharp criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and of the state of democracy in Egypt, which has been under virtual one-party rule for decades.
U.S. officials have denied trying to delay or block the report. Egyptian officials have publicly criticized the report, but not made clear whether they tried to block it.
The U.N. organization has denied that any government tried to suppress the 2004 report, which like its predecessors was prepared by an independent team of Arab experts and policy makers. But UNDP hinted at problems in a statement responding to questions about when the report would appear, saying any document coming out under the UNDP's name "must meet the high standards of impartiality expected of a U.N. agency."
With no clear sign from the UNDP as to when it would appear, Nader Fergany (search), the chief coordinator of the report, has taken matters into his own hands.
Earlier this month, the leftist Egyptian newspaper Al Arabi (search) began publishing passages on Iraq and the Palestinians Fergany originally wrote for the UNDP report. In the passages, Fergany argues that occupation, whether by the United States in Iraq or Israel in the Palestinian territories, hinders development.
Fergany describes the American occupation of Iraq as "one of the most blatant forms of foreign intervention" and accuses American troops of committing "savage strikes" and carrying out "collective punishment" against Iraqis.
Fergany, who turned down repeated requests for an interview by The Associated Press, wrote in Al Arabi that the United States tried "to imprison and tame" the report.
The U.S. State Department has denied such allegations.
The two previous reports, on which Fergany also worked, were warmly received by the United States, with President George W. Bush saying they helped advance his drive for political reform in the Middle East.
The previous reports highlighted serious development challenges facing Arabs and said the Arab world lagged behind the rest of the world in freedom, empowerment of women and education.
Unsurprisingly, Arab leaders were angered by the previous reports. Last year, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa refused to host a ceremony to launch the report because it contained criticism of the Arab governments. Organizers had to move the ceremony to Jordan.
This time, Moussa was among those who seized on reports the United States had tried to block the report, saying that was proof Washington was not serious when it called for more democracy and freedom of speech in the Arab world.
Mohammed al Rumaihi, a prominent liberal Kuwaiti sociologist, said the authors of the report may have been intimated by criticism from Arab governments and some Arab writers about the two previous reports.
"This might have made them more careful this year and want to show that they are balancing it with criticism of the Americans and Israel," he said in an interview.
"By harshly criticizing the United States they [the authors] will look good and seem to apologize for their previous reports," he said.
The current report, though, also met opposition from at least one Arab government.
In a letter published in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat last month, Egyptian Foreign Ministry official Dawlat Hassan said the report's authors had failed to take Egyptian government views into account.
She said U.N. reports should be written in consultation with member governments, and failure to do so is "unacceptable belittling of these states and it does not express a real readiness for cooperation to create a partnership for the development of this area." Hassan did not return repeated phone calls from the AP.
Mustafa Kamel el-Seyed, a Cairo University professor who wrote the report's chapter on political participation and the role of minorities, said proposals that minorities and the banned Muslim Brotherhood be allowed more say in the political process in Egypt might have upset the Egyptian government. Egyptian officials bristle at suggestions the country's Coptic Christian minority is discriminated against and says the Muslim Brotherhood is a violent fundamentalist group.
"No government has any right to express any reservations on the report. This is censorship," el-Seyed told the AP.