Foreign Policy: The New Politics of Human Rights in the Middle East
Shadi Mokhtari wrote a piece detailing the growth of human rights movements within the Middle East. Regional voices calling for increased attention to human rights have grown in both number and legitimacy over the past two years. “Where they have not been able to substantially realize their demands, they have often compelled authoritarian rulers to go to increasingly greater lengths to showcase purported commitments to rights, the most notable examples being the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) and the prosecution of [Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak,” Mokhtari said.
More meaningful human rights engagements are also taking shape at the regional level. Mohktari noted that private NGOs and ordinary activists are continually demonstrating and drafting statements which condemn abuses in other Middle Eastern countries. “For instance, Tunisian activists hold a ‘Friends of Bahrain’ conference to show support for the Bahraini revolution in reaction to the ‘Friends of Syria’ conference in Tunis, while Yemeni activists gather to support the hunger strike of a prominent Bahraini activist,” she wrote.
Civil society organizations in the Middle East are also tackling the international aspect of human rights in the region. They have done so by addressing the issues which they think are the most important priorities, while publishing their own assessments and prescriptions for change. These groups are also “challenging what they consider to be international powers’ insincere treatment and violations of human rights in the region. What is new… are increased efforts by Middle Eastern activists to use their strengthened position to make their voices heard by world powers.”
Mokhtari is adamant that authoritarian political structures must be dismantled in order to give human rights the attention they require. If the structures are not replaced she said, “Concessions in areas such as women’s rights can too easily be used as a substitute for or distraction from political rights.” While she does concede that Western organizations have been moderately successful in campaigning for the advancement of human rights, she is emphatic that “the big picture and net effect of Western and particularly U.S. policies in the region hardly support Western governments’ claims to being on the side of human rights in the Middle East.” With that in mind, Mokhtari is confident that Middle Eastern actors will increasingly come to shape the future of human rights promotion in the region.