The first Arab Human Development Report in 2002 broke from the usual blame-the-foreigner excuses by Arab intellectuals and concentrated instead on the shortcomings of Arabs themselves as the principal reason for the problems of Arab societies. Not surprisingly, this candor sat poorly with Arab governments and hate-the-West intellectuals. As a result, this report, the third annual volume in the series, includes an executive summary and a chapter that bow in the direction of Arab political correctness, departing from the rest of the volume in its focus on the pernicious West as the source of restrictions on Arab freedoms. A particularly bizarre box criticizes Israel for its restrictions on churches—this in a volume that says not a single word about religious freedom for non-Muslims in the Arab world, not even about the ban on organized non-Muslim worship in Saudi Arabia.
The 2004 report focuses on freedom with chapters on the intellectual basis of freedom, an overview of problematic issues, human rights ("denial of fundamental individual freedoms"), legal architecture ("legislative restrictions on freedom"), political architecture ("the vicious circle of repression and corruption"), and societal structures ("the chain that stifles individual freedom"), before closing with a chapter offering "strategic visions of freedom and governance." In the areas it covers, the analysis is quite solid if usually abstract: the authors obviously felt constrained from offering specific examples about freedom deficits in particular countries.
Even accepting those limitations, the report's approach suffers from some obvious omissions, such as ignoring the rampant discrimination against non-Muslim and non-Arab populations, which are significant minorities in most of the Arab world. (In the four large Arab states of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Sudan, which between them have a majority of the population of Arab states, minorities constitute a larger share of the population than do blacks in the United States.) The report also suffers from the mythology that an "Arab world" actually exists when problems and accomplishments differ remarkably from one Arabic-speaking country to another. Still, Nader Fergany and the rest of his large team are to be congratulated for being blunt about the Arab world's freedom deficit, a topic that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable as a subject for a report from an international organization.