Democratic Transformation and Human Rights in the Arab World: Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Beyond

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Democratic Transformation and Human Rights in the Arab World: Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Beyond

Side Event during the UN Human Rights Council’s 16 th Session
Monday 7 March

Organised by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)


• Kamel Jendoubi, President- Euro-Med Human Rights Network and Board of CIHRS (Tunisia)
• Moataz ElFegiery, Board Member, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies- CIHRS (Egypt)
• Maryam AlKhawaja, International Officer- Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (Bahrain)


With the participation of Jeremie Smith, Director of CIHRS’ Geneva Office


The event presented a panel of leading Human Rights Defenders from the Arab world discussing human rights in relation to recent developments in the region.


Mr. Kamel Jendoubi outlined the current events in Tunisia and the challenges and promises for the Tunisian society in its transitional period. He emphasised the historic relevance of the revolution and the powerful realization that it is possible to defeat a dictatorship through peaceful demonstrations.  Although spectacular measures have been taken in a short period of time, there are still many challenges, such as creating a political arena after the 23 year repression of such a platform under Ben Ali. Mr. Jendoubi stressed that these things do not happen over night. However, he finished his talk in a positive manner saying that the new Prime Minister has apolitical vision, and that this can begin to restore the people’s trust in the political institutions. He also emphasised once again the importance of the realisation of the people, especially the young people, that they can mobilise in order to demand their rights.


Mr. Moataz ElFegiery made an analysis of the transitional period in Egypt, and the country’s new political map. He outlined the challenges facing Egypt in the transitional phase and emphasised, among other things, the challenges of handling the legacy of Mubarak, of rebuilding the people’s trust in state institutions and of achieving a legal reform in the area of political parties, and NGOs and the media. Mr. ElFegiery emphasised the importance of the constitutional modifications relating to elections. However, he also expressed a concern relating to the speed in which these modifications were presented. While focusing on elections, they do not, however, sufficiently meet the demands of civil society for a new Egyptian Constitutional order in a fuller meaning. Mr. ElFegiery concluded by stressing that the change in language of the delegations in Geneva concerning the situations in the Middle-East and North Africa, needs to be followed by action.


Maryam AlKhawaja gave a detailed recap of the situation and protests in Bahrain since February 14. She emphasised the consistent peaceful manner of the protestors, and the unprovoked violence demonstrated by the government. The demonstrators were attacked with teargas, bird shotgun and sound bombs. The situation escalated after attacks on funeral processions for individuals killed during the protests and after riot police surrounded the Pearl roundabout attacking and shooting demonstrators without warning to scare them from coming back to protest. However, the violence had the opposite effect and people continued to demonstrate, still in a peaceful manner. Maryam AlKhawaja expressed a deep concern about the government’s attempts to instigate sectarian tension in the context of the protests. She also stressed the importance of the international community to keep perpetrators accountable and the importance of investigating cases of torture and arbitrary detention.


In conclusion, Jeremie Smith noted that silence on issues concerning these countries has long been upheld in the international community, and emphasised that this community must understand that the events occurring now are not country specific, but that it is a regional phenomenon.

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