1972 The Ford Foundation in the Middle East: Objectives and Strateg(p. 2 of 2)

B. Cultural (and Social) Development  

          Any categorization of programs in the complex field of development suffers from the tyranny of headings; this one is more onerous than most. In a general way, we wish to deal with the phenomena described by Kingsley under the rubric “patterns and methods of thought."  The topic may be distinguished from Political Development by its attention to individual patterns of thought and behavior in Middle Eastern culture rather than with social and political organization. Social development would seem to be a concept relevant to each of the other two.  

          It would be equally presumptuous for the Foundation to have as an objective the modernization of Arabic or Islamic culture as to think of us as bringing political stability to the area, but the magnitude of the problem should not keep us from focusing attention on it as we seek to define meaningful programs. 

          Kingsley comments that the mind of the Middle East is “literary rather than scientific, inspirational rather than operational, intuitive rather than deductive.”  Middle Easterners are not unique in valuing symbolism, poetry and mysticism, nor of course are they in any sense incapable of the highest scientific achievement, but there is a distinctive quality of thought or turn of mind typical of the Middle East that tends to inhibit modernization. 

          Kingsley found authors ascribing this general phenomenon to such factors as religion, the Arabic language, Islam, and the isolation of the area under the Ottomans during the early days of the scientific and technical revolution in the West. We are unable to define the condition at this stage except in very general terms, much less to be sure of its origins, but it provides the context for our work in education and the cultural development of women. In time we hope to be able to define this subject more cogently and thus to focus our programs more sharply.  

          1)  Education. Work in the field of education can be considered an end in itself, and usually is so treated in Foundation programs. We are doubtful, however, that the manpower requirements of most of the countries of this region would justify the attention we give to the field. Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and to a lesser extent Syria are exporters of high level manpower, not only to the Peninsula but to international agencies, Europe, and the Americas, prominently including the United States. Although there is much room for improvement in the quality of education in each of these countries with which we could usefully assist, we have abjured a generalized concern in favor of concentration on science, languages, and, more modestly, university administration.  

          Each of these program areas carries implications for the international relations objectives discussed below. In development terms, we have selected science education for attention because it is an area of recognized need in which knowledge transcends cultural barriers more readily perhaps than in most, and the Foundation has built up competence in the field over the years. The extent to which science education leads an individual to more rational patterns of thought is an intriguing question of obvious relevance to our program objectives, but we cannot confidently advance a positive answer. Certainly, science education would seem to be a necessary element in cultural adaptation to advanced technology, and hence to development.  

          English as a medium for advanced education and as the key to much of the modern world's literature in the physical and social sciences is of recognized importance in the Arab world. This too is a field where Foundation experience in the region and elsewhere can be effectively applied. The quality and cost of English teaching, and policies governing the national allocation of available funds, are of particular program interest.  

          We have two program interests with respect to Arabic: the teaching of Arabic to Western scholars, and the development of Arabic as a modern language. Our access to the field of Arabic modernization is limited by our own lack of skills and the sensitivity of the field, but we believe the language poses real impediments to learning for native speakers and deserves our attention when opportunities arise. The impact of the language on patterns of thought is of interest, and could be a subject for research.  

          To date, we have not developed projects in social science education at the secondary level. This field deserves future investigation. 

          The education program is discussed in more detail in Appendix VI.

          2)  Cultural Development of Women. Research on child development is focusing more and more on the first three years of life as the crucial period in shaping the intellectual, emotional and physical potentialities of the human being. Yet these vital years are entirely controlled in traditional Arab society by women whose own opportunities for intellectual and cultural development have been severely curtailed by cultural practices. Any program that could effectively communicate to young mothers information on nutrition, sanitation, child health, child development, and family planning would necessarily rank high among our priorities. The barriers to effective action by a foreign aid agency in this delicate arena are formidable but we are compelled by the importance of the subject to seek project opportunities here.  

C. Food Production  

          The Middle East program responded to the Foundation's world-wide concern for food production by launching in 1968 a major program of research into the production problems of food cereals, forage crops and legumes, and sheep raising on arid and semi-arid lands. The program has expanded to include work in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but most of the adaptive work on new varieties and improved production technology has been conducted under direct Foundation management, on land supplied by the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute in the Bekaa Valley.  

          The decision to begin a food production program by conducting a research program ourselves had several immediate advantages. First, Foundation linkages with the international crop research institutes, particularly CIMMYT, made it possible to get off to a fast start by drawing on the latest information and sometimes by borrowing institute staff. Secondly, it was necessary to demonstrate even to researchers in the region that Green Revolution technology could be adapted to benefit arid lands. Third, it was thought faster to establish high-quality research standards by beginning afresh rather than working to improve them through the cumbersome existing organizations.  

          This research has already begun to show results. New maize varieties have been developed in Egypt and Lebanon that have yielded 15 to 16 tons per hectare, or approximately 70 % more than the best varieties and 50 % more than the best local hybrids. Improved agronomic practices have also demonstrated the potential of local hybrids to yield 50 % more than usual. Semi-dwarf wheats have performed even more impressively, yielding 7 tons per hectare in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, where 1.5 and 0.75 is the average. Other promising developments related to crossbreeding of sheep and the production of fodder crops are summarized in Appendix VII.  

          The point has been reached where the logical development of the pilot work done under the Arid Lands Agricultural Development (ALAD) program extends beyond the resources of the Foundation. The ALAD staff believes that potential results from further production research would warrant, and would require for realization, an international institute with an operating budget of around $3,000,000 per year. The case for such an institute has been prepared and is currently under review in New York and Beirut.  

          At this writing we are not able to give precise formulation to the objectives of our program in food production or the weight they are likely to have within the total Foundation program in the Middle East. Several important questions require further investigation, such as:  

1.   Would improved production technology remove the main obstacles to increased food production in the Middle East, or will problems of organization and management, or social and cultural resistance to change, continue to inhibit output? 

2.   Does cereal production in the Middle East have a substantial comparative advantage over other uses of available land and water, and does the potential increase in production warrant an expenditure of the magnitude required for an institute? 

3.   Can the range of research problems posed for the institute be effectively dealt with in an institute setting (research on a number of crops such as rice, wheat, sorghum, pulses, etc.; research on a range of farming conditions from semi-arid to irrigated; research on different farming systems; research on marketing and mechanization), or could similar results be expected at less cost by working through national research institutes, linking them with CIMMYT, IRRI, etc. when necessary, without setting up an intermediary institute of this dimension? 

4.   How important to the overall objectives of the Middle East program is increased food production per se? 

5.   What constraints are placed on our options for regional program development by the current inability to work in Syria and Iraq? 

          It is clear that much of the research currently being performed under ALAD will need to be continued either through the Foundation program or under the auspices of an institute, but it is also apparent that more work is needed on the economic, social and cultural constraints on food production than is currently being done. Another concern is that we are not now capitalizing on potential interrelationships between work on food production and the other programs. 

D. Population 

          The birthrates in Middle Eastern countries remain high, and population growth approaches 3 % per year, yet only in Egypt is this considered a problem. In Libya, Southern Yemen and the Gulf States, population growth is actively encouraged, and elsewhere it is a subject viewed with considerable ambivalence.  

          External funds in support of official population programs in Egypt do not seem to be in short supply, but this unfortunately does not mean that it is effectively dealing with its problem. The Foundation played something of a catalytic role in increasing Egyptian awareness of the problem and stimulating research in reproductive biology and sociology. We are beginning to work more actively on management aspects of the Egyptian program and to focus our work in social science research more on the motivations of fertility behavior.  

          In the other countries we seek ways to make the personal, social and economic implications of high fertility more widely understood. These activities will be closely related to our work on social science research and women's cultural development.  

          A draft position paper on the population program is found in Appendix VIII, but we recognize that this field will command an undesirably modest amount of our resources unless unforeseen project opportunities appear.  

II. International Relations Objectives  

          This is an area we must approach with much modesty because the impact the Foundation can have upon immediate international e vents in the region is appropriately very little. But our objective is not to influence events; it is rather to identify and combat some of the causes of tension and instability in the region. The two main problems that affect our geographical and functional priorities are intellectual isolation of the Arab world and political instability, particularly in those states only now beginning to grapple with modernization. Both of these problems are usefully discussed in Kingsley's 1968 paper.  

A. Intellectual Isolation of the Arab World 

          The proximity of the Arab lands to Europe has inevitably led to centuries of contacts between cultures, but remarkably little communication and understanding has characterized the contacts. Initially, the immutability of the cultural barrier could be ascribed to the ferocity with which men held their religion, but the Ottoman Empire can hardly be credited with lessening the isolation of the Arabs from Europe. Even during the peaceful periods of its four hundred year history, intercourse with Europe tended to be conducted in Constantinople or the European capitals, and in the Turkish or French languages.  

          Apart from Lebanon, where French benevolent, or at least paternal, interests were officially represented by 1860, the Arab East or Mashreq remained virtually untouched by the scientific, intellectual and industrial revolutions of the West until the disintegration of Ottoman rule in the World War. This isolation was less true of Egypt, which was seldom under close central control, than of the Fertile Crescent and the Peninsula.  

          During the Mandate period between the wars, intercultural contacts were intense, and often bitter, but they might have led rather naturally into a love/hate relationship with Europe after independence, such as characterizes African/European relations now, were it not for the festering dispute over Israel/Palestine. The periodic eruption of that conflict, and the virtual necessity to ascribe each setback to Western power manipulations, has severely inhibited the development of the process of intercultural communication that has typified the post-war world with the exception of China and Burma.  

          Political tensions do not alone account for the depth of isolation of the region, for Arab thought and culture are separated from other parts of the world perhaps even more profoundly. This can in part be attributed to a conservative desert culture, one where the veil achieved its greatest sartorial vogue, and in part to the enormity of the language barrier.  

          Isolation is not a precisely measurable quantity, but there are indications that Arab insularity is in danger of increasing. The June War has resulted in a turn inward, as well as the more heralded turn Eastward, as reflected in proscriptions against study in the United States and other Western countries, in a sharp decline in exchange arrangements between Arab universities and those in the West, in restrictions on the travel of intellectuals and professionals, and in the sequestration of Western institutions such as the American University in Cairo and Al-Hikma University in Baghdad. Some of these measures have been eased in the past year, and they were never universal, but until the political climate surrounding Israel is somehow eased, there is a continuing danger of deepening isolation.  

          This is not a one-sided problem. The number of Western scholars, diplomats, businessmen and journalists who speak Arabic and are familiar with the culture is surprisingly few. The decline of missionary activity and the passing of the Mandate period, when British or French civil servants could count on a career in Arab lands, may lead or have led to a decline in the absolute numbers of Arabic-speaking Westerners. Also, in the age of the aircraft, a scholarly concern for the economics or politics of the Middle East does not necessarily require prolonged residence or profound mastery of the language. American diplomacy of the Dulles era, and some might point to less remote instances, is often cited as a case where the US Government might have behaved differently had it been better acquainted with the people with which it was dealing. The incipient intellectual and cultural isolation of the Middle East is of particular concern to the Foundation because of its potential impact on world peace. Intellectual isolation is a threat to peace largely because it cannot be accompanied by physical isolation. 

          The Middle East remains as central to world affairs as its designation implies, because of its geographical situation and because of its resources. It cannot remain aloof from the world even if it would choose to do so, but it can, if cut off intellectually and culturally, construct a worldview that threatens peace. The ability of the people who devised three of the world's great religions to devise elaborate explanations for phenomena and then to defend the explanations ferociously cannot seriously be doubted. It would thus seem to be a high-priority Foundation objective to provide opportunities for incipient belief structures to be tested by contact with more universal reality. 

          The two Arab-Anglo-American Dialogues held in London, under Ariel Foundation auspices but financed by the Ford Foundation, are examples of activities supported with this international relations objective in mind. These were unstructured, off-the-record discussions between informed figures from the United States, the United Kingdom and the Middle East. A seminar on East-West communication through the mass media is to be held in May, in Lebanon, to promote more complete and accurate information regarding the developments in the Arab nations, and to provide a basis for informed interpretation and balanced coverage in the mass media of the non-Arab world.  

          These grants seek directly to affect the communication process between the West and the Arab world, but not directly to affect the course of the Arab-Israeli confrontation. This seems to us an important distinction and one to be observed rather carefully, except in the unlikely event that the Foundation had an opportunity to make a singularly significant contribution to the resolution of the conflict. We should shun the efforts of even highly competent, well-meaning and unbiased groups who seek to formulate peace proposals or other direct solutions, because such efforts are unlikely to be so expensive as to fail for want of Foundation financing, and are almost inevitably going to be considered by some actors on the Middle Eastern stage to be biased in favor of opposing viewpoints. We can risk all we are doing in a long-term way for peace and development in the Middle East by gambling on making direct contributions to the search for a peace formula. 

          The impact of the isolation objective on the ranking of project opportunities is most evident in the fields of university development and language work. Saudi Arabia and the small entities on its periphery are seriously short of university-trained manpower, but Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt are more vexed by the under-employment of those already educated. University development could well have a lower rank among our priorities than it does if it were not for our perception of the university as an important medium for intercultural exchange. The significance of Japanese universities in translating and interpreting Western thought during the development of that country seems relevant. They were operating across linguistic, religious and cultural barriers no less formidable than those confronting the Arab world today.  

          We plan to devote more thought to the ways in which our concern for universities as intercultural media should affect the kind of projects we undertake in cooperation with them. The quality of university library resources always affects directly the quality of education offered, but library work may be even more than usually important to us here because of the variety of intellectual sources they contain. Scholarly exchange programs may also deserve sympathetic attention for this reason. University administration, given the condition of most institutions in the region, is basic to the effectiveness of all other activities in the university context. 

          A particularly important question surrounding the role of universities as cultural intermediaries is the value that should be assigned to American institutions in the region, particularly AUB, AUC, and BCW. We do not as yet have a firm position on this important question.  

          Little needs to be added on the subject of language to the remarks in the section concerning developmental objectives, except to point out again that the language barrier is a severe contributing factor to the intellectual isolation of the Middle East, and the field is consequently of high priority in our work. Most of our language activities would be fully justified under developmental objectives but our interest in Arabic language instruction for Westerners reflects the anti-isolation objective. We may need to consider devoting additional attention to Arabic language teaching problems and the facilitation of research by Western scholars in the Middle East. 

B. Political instability  

          Program activities in the field of political development discussed in the previous section could be treated with equal relevance here. Our projects in public administration and law and development represent efforts in search of stable governmental processes which would, if found, contribute to a reduction of tensions in the area. It is self-evident that stable and secure governments can negotiate international accommodations with more confidence than can precarious ones. Similarly, both sides can have more confidence in negotiated solutions when possibilities of their repudiation by successive governments are reduced. 

          Political instability affects our judgment as to the appropriate geographical spread of program activities. Unstable, oil-rich countries pose a greater threat to world peace than unstable poor countries. Saudi Arabia enjoys oil revenues of approximately two billion dollars per year now, and it is anticipated that this figure may treble by 1980, or shortly thereafter. This has not been an unstable country in recent times, but the thinness of the layer of governmental competence and the sheer magnitude of the task of modernizing the country, which the Saudis seem determined to do, create conditions of incipient instability. For the past eight years the Foundation has cooperated with the Saudi Government in the development of its administrative capacity. This program is currently under review and we anticipate that there will emerge a strong case for greater attention on our part to Saudi Arabia.  

          The British withdrawal from the Gulf has created another situation where governmental capacity seems ill equipped to deal with the complexity of the problems. A precarious federation of six emirates (U.A.E.) has been formed in the hope that in unity there is strength. Outside of the Union, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait continue to go it alone, the latter two with some degree of administrative sophistication. Oman under Sultan Qabbous has just in the last two years begun the long struggle to gain the 20th century, after years of virtually complete unlettered isolation. The world might little note the plight of these newly independent entities were it not for the fact they have attractive quantities of oil.  

          Various U. N. agencies are moving smartly to the aid of Oman and the U.A.E. Representatives of consulting and engineering companies and sales agents for many products vie with U.N. experts for scarce hotel rooms. There is no thought that the Foundation might be tempted to compete in the Gulf with private or international offers of assistance, but there may be significant small program activities that the Foundation could perform more effectively or in a more timely way than others on the scene. The case for our interest lies not in the numbers of people likely to be directly involved, nor in the inability of the states concerned to finance their desperate needs. It rests instead on the likelihood that these fragile states may be the focal point of turmoil in the region for the next decade, unless functioning governmental processes can be developed.  

          The dispute over the Gulf islands has already sparked controversy from Iran to Libya and beyond, but it is equally significant that in two of the other entities, Sharja (one of the U.A.E.) and Qatar, forcible changes in leadership have occurred in the few months since the British left. These were family affairs, involving the usurpation of power by a brother and a cousin, but they may presage an era of unprincipled contests for the right to rule. The Federation may be the best hope for governmental stability, but it may have but a short time to become a functioning reality, or agreement is likely to break down.  

          Program opportunities in the Gulf have yet to be explored, but they seem likely to take the form of cooperation with U.N. agencies such as UNICEF and UNESCO, and/or an attempt to use the Foundation's Saudi Arabian experience in administrative development to advantage in either Oman or the Federation. A rather different case exists for our giving special attention to Jordan's occupied West Bank. Although we are contemplating no major infusion of funds to the West Bank at the present time, we do not believe that modest projects there should be subjected to the same strict effectiveness criteria that we apply to other proposals. This is because the West Bank, like the Gulf, is a particularly sensitive area in terms of international tensions. It is important that international concern for the quality of education offered to West Bank inhabitants be demonstrated when opportunities present themselves.


          Elements of the program strategy we plan to employ in pursuit of our objectives are summarized below. They are dealt with in somewhat more detail in Appendix IX.  

1.   Select project opportunities that enable us to better understand the development process;  

2.   Cooperate where possible with international agencies in order to improve the effectiveness of their important efforts, and to gain a multiplier effect from our own use of funds;  

3.   Encourage regional cooperation and competence through the development of local resource centers for education, training and research, and, where it would be useful, link these centers with appropriate institutions in the developed world;  

4.   Rely where possible on local consultants employed regionally;  

5.   Structure projects in such a way as to encourage cooperative national effort; and 

6.   Transfer successful development models within the region.  


          This paper reveals a number of cases where our program objectives and possibilities require sharper definition on the basis of knowledge yet to be developed. It will be revised periodically to reflect changing circumstances and perceptions. We also plan to revise the Appendices and to prepare, but not in all cases soon, the following:  

1.   A program budget keyed to program objectives.  

2.   Position papers on major institutions, particularly AUB, AUC, BCW, the University of Jordan, etc., and on major objectives.  

3.   Systematic consideration of the interrelationship of our programs, especially the agricultural program with the others.  

4.   Papers on program objectives and strategy on Iran and, if it comes under this office, Turkey. 

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