Arab countries have made substantial progress in reducing illiteracy over the past two decades but the rate has remained high among women in many regional nations, according to the 21-nation Arab League.
Strife-torn Iraq appeared to be plagued with the highest illiteracy rate in the region while Palestine posts the lowest rate despite its ongoing conflict with Israel.
The Arab League's 2009 socio-economic report released last week showed Kuwait had the lowest female illiteracy rate in the Arab World.
The report's figures were for the period between 2006 and 2008 as many nations are normally late in supplying socio-economic data to the Cairo-based Arab League while others, such as Somalia, no longer provide such information.
The report showed general literacy rates in the region have been sharply cut since 1990, but they remained as high as 30 to 58 per cent in some Arab states. It also showed efforts to eliminate illiteracy have produced much better results among men because of existing social barriers and traditions that bar women from getting education or jobs in many member countries.
In Iraq, illiteracy was estimated at 58.9 per cent at the end of 2006 compared with 64.3 per cent at the end of 1990. The figures showed there was a little progress in literacy achievements in Iraq with the country's development plans obstructed by three major wars. A breakdown showed Iraq's male illiteracy stood at 43.4 per cent at the end of 2006 and that among women it was 74.8 per cent.
Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip had the lowest illiteracy rate in the Arab region, standing 5.8 per cent at the end of 2008. The rate was 2.8 per cent among men and 8.9 per cent among women.
Kuwait had the second lowest rate of six per cent, followed by Qatar with a rate of 6.9 per cent. Jordan had the fourth lowest rate of 7.9 per cent while the UAE and Bahrain had the fifth and sixth lowest rates of 10.2 and 11.7 per cent.
Lebanon's illiteracy rate was also estimated at 11.7 per cent while members with relatively low rates included Libya and Oman, with 13.8 and 16.3 per cent respectively, according to the 350-page report. Besides Iraq, the countries with higher illiteracy rates were Morocco with 45.3 per cent, Mauritania with 44.8 per cent, Yemen with 42.7 per cent, Sudan with 36.9 per cent and Djibouti with 29.7 per cent.
Egypt, the most populated Arab nation, also had a high illiteracy rate of 25.3 per cent at the end of 2006, the report said. Algeria's rate was also high at 21.4 per cent while that in Tunisia stood at 18.6 per cent and in Syria at 15.5 per cent.
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