AMMAN, JORDAN -- A group of Arab intellectuals have called for rapid progress toward democracy in the Arab world and contended that the United States and Israel have impeded such progress, in a report issued here Tuesday.
The Arab Human Development Report was released by the United Nations Development Program after a six-month delay, during which the Bush administration sought to block it. Nevertheless, according to its authors, it appeared to contain few major changes from earlier drafts.
The report warns that Arab governments may soon face the prospect of civil strife or change forced by outsiders unless swift and fundamental reforms are begun. But, in a departure from two earlier reports on Arab society in which the group focused almost exclusively on problems within the Arab world, this study says the United States and Israel have also played a part in suppressing Arab freedom. The Bush administration, in Washington, objected to that conclusion.
In part, the study blames the dearth of democracy and freedom in the region on the structure of modern Arab states, which have become highly centralized, mostly offering their citizens only a small margin of freedom. Even in the region's limited democracies, the report says, societies and economies are organized in a way that prevents the emergence of an effective opposition.
"The Arab development crisis has widened, deepened and grown more complex to a degree that demands the full engagement of all Arab citizens in comprehensive reform," the authors say. "Partial reforms, no matter how varied, are no longer effective or even possible."
The report asserts that Arabs enjoy greater personal and economic freedom than they once did, but that they have little if any political freedom. "The freedoms of opinion, expression and organization, in particular, suffer from repression in most Arab countries," said Rima Khalaf, assistant secretary general of the development program, who led the effort that produced the report.
The study is the third installment of the Human Development Report series written by prominent Arab scholars, who have taken an unsentimental eye to their world and offered the most prominent academic study of the Arab condition.
The first report, published in 2002, caused a stir in the Arab world when it outlined how the region was falling behind in development; the second offered criticized an "Arab knowledge deficit" in contrast to the rest of the world. The latest installment focuses on the lack of freedom and democratization in the region.
"We are hoping to deepen the debate over freedom and good governance," said Ms. Khalaf.
The Bush administration had objected to language in early drafts that said Israeli control over the Palestinian territories and the American occupation of Iraq only served to impede Arab human development. The report also said that one result of the American invasion of Iraq was that "the Iraqi people have emerged from the grip of a despotic regime that violated their basic rights and freedoms, only to fall under a foreign occupation that increased human suffering."
"One-tenth of Arabs live directly under foreign occupation," Ms. Khalaf told an audience on Tuesday.
The Bush administration reportedly threatened to reduce financing for the development program if such language was not removed from the text. The development agency considered publishing the report through a private company, or publishing it under the names of its authors. It finally released the report under its own name, but with a disclaimer in the preface.
The authors said the original language was essentially intact, although some particularly prickly terms may have been softened. They added that the controversy may have given them a degree of legitimacy among Arabs, who might have otherwise dismissed them as apologists for American views.
"Ironically they saved us from the agony of defense," said Nader Fergany, lead writer of the report. "It was good to have had the fight and to have won it."
In Washington, Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said that "our overall appraisal of the report is it fits in the pattern" of the two previous reports that focused on need for reforms within the region. "It's not even so much that we disagree with the problems," he said. "We tend to disagree with these sort of gratuitous statements about where they come from."
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