One of the Arab world's most widely respected
non-governmental organizations is charging that at least 14 Middle East and
North African governments are systematically violating the civil liberties of
their citizens and most of them are close U.S. allies in the war on terror.
In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Cairo
Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) said that there have been "huge
harassments of human rights organizations, and defenders have been increasingly
subject to abusive and suppressive actions by government actors
majority of Arab countries, particularly Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, and Tunisia."
The group this week called upon the international community to "exert
effective efforts to urge Arab governments to duly reconsider their legislation,
policy, and practices contravening their international obligations to protect
freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom to form associations,
including non-governmental organizations"
It added, "Special attention should be awarded to providing protection
to human rights defenders in the Arab World."
As an example of typical area-wide human rights abuses, the CIHRS report cited
the recent forced closure by Egyptian authorities of the Association for Human
Rights Legal Aid, an organization active in exposing incidences of torture.
The Egyptian government claimed that the organization"received foreign
funding without having the consent of the Minister of Social Solidarity."
The organization warned of "increasingly repressive conditions" being
imposed on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt, including a proposed
amendment to the Law of Associations that it said would limit the right of association
Other Arab nations singled out for detailed criticism included Algeria, Bahrain,
Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia,
the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The report also accused four other Arab
countries of human rights abuses Libya, Algeria, Sudan, and Morocco.
The U.S. and other Western governments have had close ties with Arab governments
in the Middle East and North Africa for many years. These ties have grown closer
since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
But since the administration of President Ronald Reagan (1981-89), promoting
democracy and freedom in the Arab world has been a staple in U.S. political
rhetoric. The rhetoric has ratcheted up significantly during the administration
of President George W. Bush. In his second inaugural address, Bush said, "It
is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic
movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal
of ending tyranny in our world."
Bush administration officials say they have used diplomatic pressure, foreign
aid, and the architecture established by Reagan to help nurture democracy in
the Middle East and North Africa. Bush also said the democratic transformation
of the Middle East would begin with regime change in Iraq.
Many observers have found the Bush administration's relationships with Egypt
to be particularly problematic. In the past, the president and his secretary
of state, Condoleezza Rice, have publicly expressed criticism of Egypt for repressing
free political opposition, notably the imprisonment of liberal reformers such
as Ayman Nour, the principal political opponent of longtime President Hosni
Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress put a "hold" on $100 million
of military aid to Egypt, calling on the Mubarak government to protect the independence
of the judiciary, stop police abuses and curtail arms smuggling from Egypt to
Gaza. In testimony to Congress, Margaret Scobey, the nominee to be ambassador
to Egypt, said, "The government's respect for human rights remains poor,
and serious abuses continue."
But in January, the U.S. waived the hold in a bid to encourage Egypt to help
in calming the Israeli-Palestinian crises. In a visit to Egypt the same month,
President Bush told his Egyptian counterpart, "I appreciate the example
that your nation is setting."
Egypt receives $2 billion a year, including $1.3 billion in military assistance
from the U.S. annually second only to the sum awarded to Israel.
Steve Carpinelli of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) told IPS, "Billions
of dollars in new military aid, accompanied by lax oversight and poor accountability,
have flowed to governments with documented histories of human rights abuses,
weak advancements toward democratic governance and the rule of law, among the
findings of the Center's Collateral Damage project, which assessed the impact
of U.S. military aid in the post 9/11 era."
The CPI, a government accountability watchdog group, has just published a comprehensive
report on U.S. military aid to repressive governments.
The CIHRS report to the UN details numerous human rights violations throughout
the Arab Middle East and North Africa. It accuses Syria of arresting "dozens
tens of qualified professionals personnel belonging to human rights organizations
and civil society revival committees." It says the Bahraini government
closed the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, put the president of one civil society
on trial, and charged seven other activists with "participating in an illegal
gathering and creating disturbance."
In Tunisia, the report charges, "The authorities have made it almost impossible
for the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH) and other civil society institutions
to operate." Tunisian human rights defenders have not been allowed to travel
abroad and the government undertook measures to freeze LTDH's grants from the
According to the CIHRS report, "Many Gulf countries, as well as Libya,
do not allow for the existence of human rights organizations or civil society
activists. The long-running Algerian military influence has severely limited
civil society organizations Since the toppling of Sudan's democratic government
in 1989, Sudanese civil society has been deprived of many legal and political
protections and rights. Furthermore, civil society institutions in conflict
affected countries, such as Iraq, come under constant violent attack; the same
applies to the situation in Palestine whether due to the occupation or
infighting between its two political parties."
The report identifies Morocco as one of the few Arab countries that has made
progress in the human rights field. However, it notes that members of the Moroccan
Association for Human Rights have been arrested, tried, and sentenced to prison
for periods ranging between two and three years for displaying slogans during
a peaceful protest during Labor Day celebrations. The slogans were considered
by the authorities to be "detrimental to the king and monarchy," the
(Inter Press Service)