Egypt seems a good place to start. Egypt is by far the most populous Arab state. And although Egypt is a poor country in per-capita-income terms, its economy is larger than Saudi Arabia’s. Historically Egypt has been the most westward-looking of Arab countries
To blame the existence of al Qaeda on poverty like Egypt’s is a slur on the poor. The September 11 attackers were taking flying lessons in America, not rug-weaving lessons in a village on the Nile. Yet there must be some economic, or political-economic, roots to the burning —flaming, bursting, exploding—bush of current events. Fouad Ajami, the author of The Dream Palace of the Arabs and a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, has written, “Atta struck at us because he could not take down Mr. Mubarak’s world, because in the burdened, crowded land of the Egyptian dictator there is very little offered younger Egyptians save for the steady narcotic of anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism.”
Narcotics aside, this “very little offered” raises a question about Arab culture. Why has Egypt—and the whole Arab world—made relatively little economic progress? Even the oil-flush Gulf states have not become rich the way we understand rich in the West. Kuwait is little more than an oil spigot with people sitting on top, and all they have to do is turn the tap. But Kuwait’s per capita GDP is $15,000, whereas utterly resourceless Luxembourg’s is $36,400.
Egypt of yore may have been economically sclerotic, but modern Egyptians can’t really blame their ancient civilization. At least they had a civilization, which is more than we did—or, to judge by Jenny Jones, do yet. And Islam didn’t destroy that civilization any more than the Ptolemites, the Romans, and the Byzantines had before. The capitulation of Egypt to the Arabs was brokered by the Christian Patriarch of Alexandria in 642, on condition of security for persons and property and with religious freedom guaranteed in return for payment of tribute.
The Arab world began with a number of economic advantages besides tribute. It had a common language, a unified government, and territory that sat athwart the trade from the Orient to the Mediterranean, between the Mongols and the deep blue sea. To move goods by any other route was to risk getting very wet, or dying. The obligation of pilgrimage stimulated commerce and encouraged the general public to travel the way nothing else would until the invention of frequent-flyer miles and Disney World. A measure of law and order existed, unlike in Europe, where there was none, and in China, where there was too much. And Arabs had absorbed the learning of Greco-Roman civilization centuries before Europeans, in their Renaissance, began to pick scraps of it out of the ruin they’d made of Greece and Rome. Also, the Islamic religion has the right attitude. In the Koran, Sura II, verse 275, states, “God hath permitted trade.” The Koran orders the use of honest weights and measures, the fulfillment of contracts, and the payment of debts. And one of the sayings attributed to Muhammad makes him not just the Prophet of Allah but the prophet of Adam Smith: “Only God can fix prices.”
But something went wrong. How did the Arabs fall behind Europe, America, and now the Far East? It was probably nothing so air-filled as “the experimental model and European rational thought” or “the Protestant work ethic” or “Confucian values.” Civilizations, like people, trip over smaller things. The answer may be as boring as a real-estate title search”. (…)
Texto completo aqui
[recomendado pelo José na GL em Março de 2004]