The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated April 23rd as World Book Day. Raseef22 is taking this occasion to reexamine the numbers that are so telling about the status of reading in the Arab World today.
How much do Arabs read?
According to the 2003 “Human Development Report” issued by UNESCO, an average Arab reads far less than one book; it takes 80 people combined to complete one book in a year. In comparison, an average European reads 35 books per year, and an Israeli reads 40.
The 2011 Report on Cultural Development issued by the Arab Thought Foundation stated that Arabs read for an average of six minutes per year, while Europeans read 200 hours annually.
The numbers vary from one report to another concerning the amount of reading in the Arab world. A 2008 report prepared by Synovate, a multinational market research firm, said that Egyptians and Moroccans spend 40 minutes per day reading newspapers and magazines, compared to 35 minutes in Tunisia, 34 minutes in Saudi Arabia, and 31 minutes in Lebanon. Concerning reading books, the Lebanese spend 588 minutes reading per month compared to 540 minutes in Egypt, 506 minutes in Morocco, and 378 minutes in Saudi Arabia. These numbers reflect a more positive situation than those reported previously. The difference is that the latter set of numbers includes reading the Qur’an. The earlier numbers only count reading literature and disregard reading newspapers, magazines, textbooks, files and reports for work, and books in the entertainment category.
How many books to Arabs produce?
The UNESCO report concludes that the Arab world translates 1/5 of the books translated by the small nation of Greece. Nearly 10,000 books have been translated into Arabic between the end of Al-Ma’mun’s rule (813-833 a.d.) in the Abbasid Caliphate and the current age. This number is equal to the number of books translated by Spain in a single year.
In the first five years of the 1980s 4.4 books were translated for every million Arabs (less than one book per million Arabs per year). In Hungary, the number was 519 books per million; in Spain it was 920 books per million.
The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) released a statement reporting that the illiteracy rate in the Arab world is 19.73%, with a huge disparity between men and women; women make up 60.60% of the illiterate population. If we add to this the fact that millions of Arabs live in poverty, and are concerned only with meeting their primary needs and not with purchasing books, some of the factors in the full picture become clearer.
Moreover, there is an idea that connects the desire to read with the nature of the political system in place. It is said that where liberty prospers, the number of readers increases. In democratic societies, the individual citizen is seen as an important factor in public life. So, even if it is only a small amount, individuals care about cultural and political output. That is why the numbers about reading in the age in which political ideology prospered among the educated in the Arab World were far greater than those today. And now, because most Arabs have handed their futures over to fate and feel that participation in the public arena is futile, the concern for reading has regressed.
I translated this article from http://raseef22.com/culture/2015/04/23/reading-habits-in-the-arab-world/