Are the Arabs inferior to the other peoples of the world?
That question was the core issue of a symposium called for by the Cairo Institute for the study of the human rights in Ibn Rushd Saloon on the occasion of the 55th, anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Magdy El-Naim, the executive director of the Institute, at the beginning of the symposium said that that question exceeded the description of the Arab World as all peoples realized the deterioration of development and democracy in that part of the world and how lagging it was than the other peoples of the world in more than one respect.
El Naim said that the aim of the question was to arrive at the reasons of that state of the Arab World. He drew the attention to the fact that the Arab countries represent 35% of the despot countries though the percentage of such countries was 10% of the countries of the world.
He added that the Arab countries ranked low among the countries of the world regarding the respect of human rights and development. This was shown by indicators of corruption or human or economic development and expenditure on scientific researches. Meanwhile, they ranked high in the spread of corruption. He raised other questions about the suitable methods of making the ideas of democracy and human rights public property and not an agenda imposed from abroad.
Nabil Abdel Fattah, the expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies and chief editor the report about the religious state, started a repeated question most probably dating back before the time of June defeat 1967, a question springing from an environment of frustration and tension as a prelude to answer the question. He had another question and that was “why do dictatorial and Arab peoples” systems slower in the working out of human rights organizations than other people and systems belonging to other cultures? Why do they recite slogans justifying the slow pace of execution of the rules of human rights as there were systems and several societies in Africa and Asia which alleged culture specificity to justify their non-commitment to international agreements signed and authenticated by them? They believed that the complete activating of human rights led to a kind of disruption of such societies.
Abdel Fattah added that the second remark was that some looked upon the system of human rights and liberal systems and western democracy isolated from the social, cultural and historical context which produced those western legal and political and liberal systems. He said that some forgot that western democracy and human rights meant the development of the relations between the nations, societies, citizens in the western experiment, the individual as a social being and the crystallized independent margins between the general scope and the specific scope general rights and freedoms showing that it took longer and serious conflicts.
He said that we forgot that human rights were secular and the product of western liberalism and the natural ideology more than religious though the values they involved might find shadows in the heavenly religions.
Nabil Abdel Fattah said that in the Arab and Islamic societies globalization confronted religious ignorance and ethical skepticism of reform and its results. He ascribed that to mere political considerations of political Islamic societies and some national movements opposing globalization.
He emphasized that we did not possess so far any adequate studies and especially field studies about the hindrance of applying human rights principles. He said that in spite of the absence of such studies, there was general evidence used by researchers and watchers in their speeches to explain the bad state of human rights and constructive obstacles to accepting and assimilating the subject of democracy and human rights. He said that the focus was always on the pivot of the state as it was the monopolist of legal violence and the tyranny pursuit of rulers. He considered all this insufficient to understand the deterioration of human rights in the Arab societies.
Abdel Fattah also reminded them of not forgetting the cultural framework which affected the ruling group and the State’s machinery and tools. He pointed that the cultural framework contained history of a combination of cultural systems: several and varied produced at several stages greatly affecting the process of foundation of the state and the political system and its function.
Abdel Fattah said that the dominating watch systems in the Arab World; pressures and violations of human rights were not only of pursuit related to countries and political system but also violations done by forces and political groups. He stressed that such violations formed part of a group culture and that interference between control systems and other violations come from above or from down.
Abdel Fattah said that the individual as a social subject in most Arab societies still owned some explanatory attraction of the weakness of the culture of human rights and the weakness of assimilation of liberal values referring to the fact that the birth and existence of the psychological and social individual was the prelude of the foundation of individualism in the texture of the cultural, political values and ethics in any community group.
Abdel Fattah expressed his belief that up to that moment democratic demands and human rights were electoral demands. That noble demand did not change to a social one finding social power helping and supporting it and consequently – as believed by Abdel Fattah – the expression that democracy would come supported by tanks. Americans and Western warships in the area were a more simplification regardless of patriotic or national consideration. Democracy: as an internal demand needed revision as a result of strong interference in relations among societies and states through satellite, the internet, and the existence of a general internet field and it no longer became surrounded by security limitations, bureaucracy and domination in the Arab World but it became a general field.
Therefore, the influences of abroad greatly affected and reflected the internal, regional and international variables. Within that framework democracy and human rights had become a condition of the conditions of giving out grants, loans and external help which reduced the influences of existing dominating systems.
Abdel Fattah expressed his belief that it was easy to reject any external reforms for political and ethical reasons, etc. But, meanwhile the ruling political systems in the Arab World with their global and dominating speeches should respond to internal changes and internal voices advocating democracy.
Abdel Fattah said that without the change of democracy demand and human rights from electoral demands to social demands supported by social forces, it would still be a basic obstacle to the political movement calling for democracy and the working out of human rights in the Arab World.
Dalal El-Basry, the Lebanese Researcher, considered that there were basic reasons making the Arab World hostile to the slogan of human rights in addition to what Nabil Abdel Fattah had said. She said that one of the reasons was the adoption of the call for human rights by the United States of America which violated human rights and that the Arabs were accustomed since their independence to one-track mind based on complete rejection of whatever came from the West and America.
She added that the Arabs all time were prisoners to the idea of external conspiracy referring that during the civil war in Lebanon and though all militia people fought, yet the crimes were all said to be committed by the Israeli enemy whereas the crimes were committed by local forces.
El-Bazry criticized what she described as tyranny in the Islamic fundamentalists’ minds in the Arab World and their understanding of Islam as if it were a weapon. She stressed that it was difficult to talk about human rights in what she called Islamic domination.
She asked the organizations of human rights to spread their work to the research in suitable preludes to make the international concepts of human rights more related to the Arab environment instead of calls and demands. The Iraqi Writer and activist, Dr. Abd Al Hussien Shabaan, said that there was the problem of the Arab movement of human rights including basic elements, the first of which was that the idea of human rights was basically a western idea and that that movement was part of the International movement to besiege (encircle) its countries and influence their policies and consequently their identities. The second element was that the governments themselves demanded that organizations should support them, defend their domination and national independence without looking for political reformed and improving systems of education and so on saying that the Arab movement of human rights was in a dilemma and was left to suspects regarding its patriotism.
Shabaan emphasized that there were important challenges facing the societies and the Arab region in general and that such challenges were reflected in the movement of human rights and the civil society in Arab countries in particular. Among such challenges were the subjects of modernization and globalization and what was after modernism saying that those who confronted globalization meant confronting its negative effects. Their call did not mean that they could stay beyond globalization but they had to benefit by the positive aspects of globalization of human rights and solidarity.
Abdel Hussein Shabaan spoke about a number of the basic obstacles which confronted human rights in the Arab region. International unfair sanctions to which some Arab peoples were exposed such as what happened in Iraq, Libya and the Sudan. As a result of occupation such as imperialistic occupation of Palestine and the occupation of Iraq and the military bases which were an extension of foreign existence in the Arab World were some of such obstacles.
He added that the wars that the Arab countries had to undergo whether in chief confrontation with Israel or other conflicts such as the Iraq – Iran war, of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and its aftermath, i.e., Sanctions of Iraq until its occupation and the decomposition of its organizations.
Shabaan said that the Arab governments pretended that they had sacrificed development, democracy, the respect of human rights for confronting Israel; but after 55 years, such countries could not develop, advance in any field and they could not restore the land occupied in the Israeli invasion after missing the initiatives. He showed that the involvement of the Arabs in war with Israel and that the absence of a peaceful settlement to return the legal rights to the Palestinians had pushed the Arab countries towards armament and spending billions of pounds to promote armament which was used against their peoples not against foreign aggression.
He added that one of the problems which confronted the Arab communities at the internal level was the nature of the religious discourse and which religion was wanted and where they stand from the religious teachings and whether what is being heard on alters and in the mass media did have any relation with religious teachings or it was just a repetition of a religious, criminal, prohibitory discourse which overlooks ‘the other’. He advocated the necessity of the reform of the religious speech, more openness, democracy and the respect of human rights and consequently reconstructed new foundations to make citizens aware of the ‘rights’ culture.
Shabaan said that that was a long battle in which education had its role to play. Curricula should be revised as they evoked terrorism and hatred towards the ‘other’
Shabaan called for recognition of what Arab societies suffered from, i.e., cultural problems. He said that they should not attribute everything to the rival (opponent) or abroad.
He also called for admitting inadequacy not only on the part of the governments but also at the level of the organizations of the civil community attributing the weakness of such organizations to legal constraints in addition to the weakness of legal and constitutional structure in such countries. These constraints led to a weakness of the organizations of the civil community and the brittleness of elections at all levels. He felt sorry for many of the cultured citizens used to pay homage and burn incense to the sultan and so defended dictatorship. He cited Iraq as an example.
Shabaan said that three things went together: patriotism, nationalism and humanism as well as concepts of democracy and human rights. He emphasized the fact that no patriot could be against democracy as he would then be converted to be a dictator and his patriotism would be lacking and wounded. All nationalists can never but believe in the rights of other nationalities. He also said that only democracy could attract passive followers unless it was synchronic with the national dimension as a democrat must be patriotic.
Shabaan concluded saying that they had received bombs on the head under the speech of democracy and that they had undergone an unfair national besiege. Democracy which they advocated but not what we wanted – came with pains and limitless tortures as happened in Iraq of humiliation and collapse in a way far away from democracy and human rights.
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