Arab Spring

One of the primary demands of the 2011 Egyptian revolution was to end the three decades of emergency rule under President Hosni Mubarak. But two years later, President Mohamed Morsi has declared a state of emergency in three canal cities: Port Said, Suez, and Ismailya.

Driven by a growing fear of its own people and their demands for better governance, the Sudanese regime is intensifying its assault on humanitarian organizations and human rights activists, both at home and abroad.

 

As 2012 winds down, it is time again to reflect on the year’s human rights developments. Unfortunately, the bad seemed to outweigh the good this year, as many authoritarians held on to power and continued upheaval in the Middle East threatened to derail any democratic progress.

Women and men in Tunisia and around the world were appalled earlier this month when it came to light that a woman who filed charges of rape against two police officers was herself charged with "public indecency." After a week of protests and embarrassing press, the Tunisian president issued a formal apology to the woman, though it remains to be seen what will become of the charges against her and the police officers. This is just one recent example of a much wider affliction that plagues countries around the world: sexual harassment, violence, and intimidation directed at women.

Last week the world witnessed a wave of violent outrage in various Muslim countries, triggered by a film produced in the United States that defames the prophet Muhammad. While there is speculation on whether the attacks against U.S. embassies were spontaneous or orchestrated, that is not really the most crucial issue in this tragedy. More important is the way the overall phenomenon is being used to draw attention away from pressing political and economic problems in the affected countries.

In describing Ron Paul’s attitude toward America’s role in the world, most observers use the term “isolationist,” or even “fiercely isolationist.” Paul has tried to distance himself from the isolationist label, but the identification has stuck, and properly so.

The right to form associations, clubs, and other groups, as well as to meet or talk with people individually without government interference, is identified as a fundamental freedom under Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is an essential component of any society. This freedom can be exercised by practicing one’s faith with fellow believers, forming labor unions and other civic groups, peacefully protesting unjust government policies, or simply forming human connections, in person or online, on issues of common interest. But in more than half of the world, this right is regularly infringed upon by governments, especially when it takes a form that antidemocratic regimes find threatening.

Today, on Global Freedom of Association Day, we highlight 10 of the most ridiculous ways in which the world’s more repressive governments have restricted freedom of association and assembly.

The past week’s developments in Egypt have been dispiriting to anyone who thought Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year represented a true revolution. It is now clear that, though unplanned, Mubarak’s downfall presented a golden opportunity for Egypt’s generals to stage a soft military coup, easing him out of power and preventing a handover to his son and heir-apparent Gamal, a businessman with no military experience whom the generals were unwilling to accept. Since then, the world’s focus has been on Egypt’s continuous political turmoil: demonstrations by revolutionary forces in Tahrir Square, parliamentary and presidential elections, the struggle for power between Islamist movements and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and now reports of Mubarak’s incapacitation or death.  But the real story is the relentless campaign by Egypt’s “deep state”—its generals and their military-industrial complex, state security organizations, and elements of the former ruling party, with their well-established patronage networks and allied business interests—to stage a counterrevolution.

I was supposed to be in Bahrain this past weekend to lead an international freedom of expression mission with representatives of several prominent advocacy groups,  including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN InternationalIndex on Censorship, and Reporters Without Borders. However, after approving our mission in early April, and even offering to arrange meetings with relevant officials, Bahrain’s Ministry of Human Rights and Social Development decided to deny permission for the joint mission just days before we were to depart, meaning our organizations had already incurred travel and other expenses. The letter we received cited “new guidelines” that prohibit more than one organization from visiting at a time, and assured us that this was “merely an organizational matter.” But given that this is the second time this year that Freedom House has been denied entry to Bahrain, the ministry’s explanation seems rather dubious.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to Capitol Hill this week to defend the administration's funding and policy priorities for the next year, which should make for some interesting discussion given the variety of serious issues facing U.S. policymakers. The fiscal year (FY) 2013 State and Foreign Operations Budget, which includes the State Department, USAID, and support for international organizations, was released on February 13 as part of the complete budget request, though full details on many programs will not be made public until next month. As Secretary Clinton appears before the House and Senate foreign relations and appropriations committees, Freedom House would like to see a robust exploration of the administration's foreign policy goals, including its plans to support human rights and democratic development.

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