The Arab region is facing an immeasurably more profound crisis than it faced at the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings seven years ago, contends the Eight Annual Report issued by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on August 7th, 2018, entitled “The Militarization of Politics and an Authoritarian Revival.” The “increasing militarization of politics, the failure to find peaceful, radical solutions to the region’s internal and international conflicts, and the resurgence of authoritarianism since the Arab Spring revolutions,” has wrought an unrelenting, dangerous decline in the region’s human rights situation. Yet as authoritarianism has risen, so too have demands for economic and social justice. Rather than quelling public protest in the region, intensified repression has inspired it.
“The Arab region is in the throes of a profound political paroxysm as the regional order and the social contract in many Arab states have unraveled though no alternative regional order or social contract has yet been devised to supplant them,” observes Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of CIHRS, in the report’s introduction. “There are no instruments to discuss possible alternatives among the major players on either the national or regional level.” The international human rights system has failed to confront the armed conflicts emerging from or exacerbated by this paroxysm; it has failed to intervene early to prevent escalation, and it has neither addressed severe humanitarian fallout nor found and enforced peaceful solutions.
At the same time, the crisis has been inflamed by a wave of externally-inflicted political violence that has engulfed the region over the last seven years in a manner not seen since Arab nations won their independence. Regional states, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have stoked the crisis through direct or proxy military interventions in Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Iran and Turkey have also intervened politically and militarily in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya.
The Arab region – as a regional order and individual nation-states, as secularists and Islamists, as majorities and ethnic and religious minorities – is facing its gravest crisis since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011. Yet while authoritarianism is resurgent in the region, it has neither stemmed the surge in economic and social demands nor subdued the public expression of protest. In 2017, protests continued throughout the region, in the Rif, Hoceima, and Jarada regions of Morocco and in some areas of Algeria, particularly Amazigh areas. Sudan, Iraq, Jordan, eastern Saudi Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula and Nubia in southern Egypt have also witnessed surges in protest movements. New civil, rights-oriented, and political leaders have arisen, who have deployed modern technology for mobilization and campaigning. In turn, governments have unleashed violence against these leaders and protesters, especially the youth, prosecuting them under fabricated charges and politically-motivated trials.
The protests reflect a structural failure in the economic management of Arab states. Ruling elites are unable or unwilling to meet the basic needs of their people, wealth and resources are poorly and unequally distributed and administered as entire regions are marginalized, with residents denied the returns on natural resources abundant in these areas. Yet more significantly, these protests reflect the dedication of peoples throughout the region to attaining economic and social justice, a dedication that threatens the longevity of authoritarian politics and offers hope for a more equitable, just, and democratic future.
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