Human Rights Under Siege.
The Seventh Annual Report of CIHRS:MENA Region at the Mercy of Autocratic Regimes, Militias, and Religious Extremists Enabled by the International Community’s Complicity
“Violent, extremist groups in the Middle East have recruited new members – especially among the youth- by exploiting deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, persistent political marginalization, and armed conflicts. This has been catastrophic for human rights in the region, giving rise to unprecedented human suffering.
- The conclusion of Human Rights Under Siege: The Seventh Annual Report issued by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
The report, which assesses the human rights situation in eleven Arab countries, warns that the ongoing failure to confront violent exclusionary religious rhetoric has led to a rise in extremist ideologies and violence. This extremist rhetoric, adopted by several governments in the region, has now thoroughly penetrated official religious and educational institutions.
The report also cautions against the deleterious impact of Sunni-Shia tension and the Saudi-Iranian conflict, and the collapse of national judicial systems throughout the region. Exacerbating the negative impact of these variables is the increasing incapacity of the international human rights community to address the erosion of human rights in the region.
“Heads of state in the region fallaciously claim that they are compelled to restrict rights and liberties in order to fight terrorism, seen as the greatest threat to the region and the world. It is the silence of the international community – its silence on the crimes against humanity committed daily by these rulers against civilians– that enables governments in the region to brutally exploit their ‘counterterrorism’ rallying cry.”
Hassan then clarified “For example, the Egyptian government’s priority is not to fight ISIS, but to preempt the possibility of a renewed, liberal wave of the Arab Spring. Syria’s priority is to uproot the moderate opposition, not the extremists, while the priority for Iraq is to secure Shia control of power and wealth at the expense of Sunnis and Kurds. Even further contradicting the dominant counterterrorism narrative, it is Saudi Arabia and several Gulf states– not al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) – that prioritize “curbing Iranian expansion in the region, especially in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, confronting Shiism, and burying the Arab Spring.”
Not only are these regimes not fighting terrorism, the perpetuation and even escalation of terrorism is crucial to advancing their political agendas, warned Hassan: “The continued existence of the Islamic State is crucial for the false legitimacy of these governments. It alleviates popular and international pressure on them to enact political and economic reforms. It alleviates popular and international pressure on these governments to enact political and economic reforms, and to respect their human rights obligations.
In three chapters, the Seventh Annual Report of CIHRS documents the state of human rights in the Arab region in 2015 and 2016. The first chapter examines trends in human rights in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan, the occupied Palestinian territories, Morocco, and Tunisia.
The second chapter analyzes the role of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in addressing human rights crises in the Middle East and North Africa, in conjunction with the role of Arab governments within the council. Regrettably, the analysis finds that the states most notorious for their human rights violations, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are increasingly able to weaken the HRC. They shield themselves and their authoritarian allies – from within and outside the Arab region, from any accountability within the council.
The third chapter of the report examines the spread of violence and terrorism in the Arab region, contextualizing the phenomenon regionally and internationally. Overall, the report notes that the political transformations since the popular uprisings of 2011 are moving in contradictory and lethal directions – away from democracy rather than towards democracy, and repressing human rights rather than promoting human rights.
In Egypt, the regime of President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi props up an exclusionary military dictatorship that wrests all security, legislative, and judicial means at its disposal. The regime achieves this authoritarian stranglehold by exploiting the public’s pervasive fear of chaos and violence. This exploitation features the oft-used counterterrorism narrative to justify al-Sisi’s authoritarian measures and brutal suppression of any potential movement towards a renewed, progressive Arab Spring.
Despite al-Sisi’s thus far successful manipulation of the Egyptian public’s fear of instability and violence, there are indications in Egypt of rising anger and dissatisfaction with the performance of the ruling elite and its security apparatus. Not only is public dissatisfaction fermenting, politicians and intellectuals increasingly fear that the public sphere’s closure – combined with the persistent, systematic violations of human rights – are jeopardizing the Egyptian state itself, by perpetuating violence and terrorism.
The report finds that for decades, the authoritarian regimes in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq have systematically destroyed their nations’ foundations and institutions, and the cohesion of their societies. The developments of the last five years in these countries clearly indicate that this systematic destruction that has led to collapse of state institutions, as well as societal fragmentation. In Syria, the regime of Bashar al-Assad is deploying its military arsenal to slaughter the nation’s own people, while the local elite in Yemen, Libya, and Iraq continually fail to manage the political transition. In all these nations, regional and international interventions – both political and military – have inflamed sectarian and political tensions, strengthened the influence of extremist religious sects, and led to the increased militarization of communities in these states.
The report observes that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has taken comprehensive security measures to confront any popular movement, while deploying its political and financial sway in the region to influence the outcome of political transitions in Egypt and Syria. It has resorted to military means to support its allies in the Gulf and ensure its continued political hegemony in Yemen, an impoverished nation currently plagued by a dire humanitarian crisis.
Bahrain and Sudan
The erosion of human rights in Bahrain and Sudan cannot be decontextualized from the general political situation in the region. The ruling authorities in both states have taken an unyielding stance with opponents and progressive movements seeking political reform. Bahrain disregarded the recommendations of the fact-finding report on human rights violations and crimes committed during the bloody clashes in 2011 between the state and citizens demanding political reform. During these clashes, the Bahraini authorities called in a Saudi military force that abetted its brutal crackdown on demonstrators.
An intensifying sense of frustration prevails in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as a result of the ongoing siege imposed by the Israeli occupation authorities on the Palestinian people. The Israeli military apparatus operates in tandem with these authorities, perpetuating a continual onslaught of war crimes and human rights violations against the Palestinians, in the service of maintaining Israel’s occupying power. Palestinians’ frustration is further exacerbated by persistent divisions and political polarization among Palestinian factions and movements.
The report also expressed regret that Morocco did not rise above nor separate itself from the wave of repression sweeping most countries in the region. Despite lively public debate on the issues of democracy and human rights, especially women’s rights, independent civil society institutions and critical media outlets have increasingly faced alarming restrictions over the last three years. The Moroccan authorities continue to systematically persecute advocates of the right to self-determination in the Western Sahara, and persistently obstruct a just resolution to the conflict.
The democratic transition in Tunisia is facing many challenges; most significantly, the increasing activity of violent religious groups, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, and the sluggish pace of legislative and institutional reforms to ensure continued democratization.
A common feature in all eleven of these countries is that perpetrators of grave human rights crimes consistently elude accountability and punishment for their actions. Judicial institutions in these states either lack the ability—due to armed conflict and collapsing state institutions—or the integrity and independence necessary to hold members of the security and military establishments accountable.
At the same time, the international community does not prioritize accountability and justice in the region. Indeed, many of the weapons used by human rights violators such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain, are supplied by Western states such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy.
This post is also available in: Arabic