1 July 2003


NEW YORK, 30 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the ceremony marking the re-opening of the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies, delivered by Chris Czerwinski, Representative of the World Food Programme and United Nations Resident Coordinator (a.i.) in Egypt, in Cairo today:

It gives me great pleasure to send my greetings to this re-opening of the Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies, the very name of which evokes the age of intellectual brilliance in Islamic history.

This event marks a significant step towards strengthening democracy and development in Egypt and the Arab world.  As the first Arab Human Development Report stressed, the Arab region is one of enormous potential.  But it has yet to find the right formula to accelerate human development and promote equitable growth.  Thus, it has lagged behind in some of the great advances of the modern age -- in material and technical progress, but also in the development of knowledge and human freedom.

It is apt, then, that the second Arab Human Development Report -- which will be issued in September of this year -- will focus on the question of knowledge.  Access to knowledge can promote skills, employment, trade, education and the wealth of a society in every dimension, especially in coming generations.  It lies at the heart of efforts to strengthen tolerance, mutual understanding and respect for diversity.  And it is a crucial ingredient of democracy and good governance -- fuelling the activities of grass-roots organizations.  It gives voice to the poor, vulnerable or marginalized members of society.  In short, it helps men and women alike to play their rightful role in the political life of their societies, and thereby influence the decisions that affect their lives.  This right -- the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas -- is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and must be respected.

The Ibn Khaldun Centre has a key role to play in the advancement of knowledge and development in Egypt and the Arab world.  As a respected member of Arab civil society, it can help cultivate a well-informed and responsible citizenship.  In a region of so many internal and external pressures, it can set an example of peaceful dialogue.  And as an articulate advocate of change, it can suggest ways to build on the momentum generated by the first Arab Human Development Report.

These are ambitious goals indeed.  But history tells us that sometimes only the most radical visions can overcome hurdles to political, social and economic transformation.  The time has come for the Arab region to grasp such a vision and make it a reality.  The United Nations will continue to be a close partner in this quest.  We will keep working closely with the people of the region for an era of human rights, political pluralism and equitable, sustainable growth.  In that spirit of partnership, please accept my best wishes for the success of your work.

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