With a resurgence of uprisings throughout the Arab region, the 22nd Regional Forum of the Human Rights Movement, held in Brussels on December 7th and 8th, sought to address the prospects of these uprisings leading to political reform, peace, and democratic transition. Organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), this year’s forum, “The Second Wave of the Arab Spring or Civil War?”, brought together rights defenders, academics, writers, politicians, and media figures from 14 countries: Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and Bahrain, as well as Belgium, Iran, and the United States. During the forum, attendees joined CIHRS in celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The forum addressed the following topics: ways to promote peace in the context of the armed conflicts that have proliferated or intensified throughout the region since the Arab Spring; the challenges facing democratic transitions, particularly transitions from military rule to civilian democracy, respectively in regards to Tunisia, Sudan, and Algeria; prospects for political change in Egypt and the role of human rights and democracy advocates at home and abroad; the future of political Islam in the Arab region; and the role of new, independent media in the region.
The forum was inaugurated by a speech from Sudan’s Minister of Culture and Media Faisal Mohamed Saleh. Praising the perseverance and courage of the Sudanese people in their struggle for a democratic state, he affirmed: “Bringing down the old regime is the easiest part of the battle for democracy. What is more difficult is the building of a new pluralistic, democratic system that guarantees freedoms, social justice, human rights, and all the principles for which we fought.”
Saleh emphasized that for these popular protest movements to emerge victorious; inclusive, democratic principles must take precedence above all else: “It is a heavy legacy. We are trying to rid ourselves of the old regime – with its men, institutions, and impact – but without its repression, exclusion, and violence. We are striving to preserve our values even against our opponents. If were are unable to do this, then we will not have won, but we will have been defeated.”
The importance of upholding values amid ever-increasing repression was a sentiment also affirmed by Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of CIHRS, in his opening speech. The conflict over values, Hassan asserted, is foundational to this second wave of Arab Spring protests; it is less a struggle for the mechanisms of democratization than it is a frank expression of the struggle for dignity, equality, and individual liberties, and of the struggle against patriarchal structures, be it on the level of the family, society, or state. One state institution targeted in particular protesters throughout the region is the military. Hassan noted the juxtaposition between popular demonstrations’ perception of the military before and after the second wave of the Arab Spring; as a liberating force, especially in the context of Palestine before 2011, as opposed to – nowadays – a force to be liberated from, with protests around the region united by their demand for liberation from the military’s political and economic dominance.
Following the inaugural session, moderated by Kamel Jendoubi, the honorary president of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights NetworkEuroMed Rights, the forum’s eight panels discussed the papers written by researchers and other figures prominent in the human rights movement in the Arab region. These papers, to be published by CIHRS at a later date, were the starting point for dialogue on peace-building efforts and the challenges facing democratic transitions in Tunisia, Sudan, Egypt, and Algeria, as well as the challenges facing emerging, independent media outlets across the region.
Launched in 2014, the Regional Forum of the Human Rights Movement is a CIHRS initiative, with the goal of fostering a framework for dialogue on urgent issues related to democratization and human rights in the Arab region, with an emphasis on the prospects and challenges facing the human rights movement in the Arab region.
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