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Human Rights Under Siege in Middle East, North Africa: Part 2

A greater and general regression is ongoing with respect to fundamental human rights in the stable states in the Middle East and North Africa – a trend that necessitates understanding the West’s collusion with human rights violations in the region.

This Western collusion can range from political support at the United Nations Security Council to the provision of weapons and police equipment used to violate human rights.

Shadi Mokhtari, managing editor of the Muslim World Journal of Human Rights, wrote the following about the 2011 Egyptian Revolution: “Tahrir Square was as much of a challenge to the United States and its seemingly unshakable political support for the Mubarak regime as it was a direct challenge to the regime itself. In effect, Egyptians impelled the United States to shift from a foreign policy that undermines human rights to one that is more consistent with its human rights rhetoric.”

Today, the same holds true for Egypt’s ruling party and president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

NPR’s May 10 coverage asserts that “some U.S. lawmakers and activists have called on the government to suspend military aid to Egypt over its violent crackdown on dissent.”

However, “Washington views President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as an important partner in maintaining stability in the region.”

In recent years, Sudan has slowly made the move from being an ally of Iran to an ally of Saudi Arabia, who in turn is an ally of the West.

Consequently, could Sudan be making its comeback to the international community at the expense of the ongoing pursuit of Sudanese president Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court for genocide and crimes against humanity?

On May 13, German newspaper Der Spiegel broke the (scandalous) news that the EU will be working with the Al-Bashir government to stem the flow of refugees from African nations.

All the while, the Sudanese government persecution of its Christian minority is ongoing, without any high-profile cases to make international headlines.

In Bahrain, Maryam al-Khawaja, sister of detained human rights advocate Zainab al-Khawaja, said that continued U.S. silence over the regime’s human rights abuses is helping to facilitate her sister’s and father’s continued detention.

“Until there is international accountability, especially from close allies like the United States, we’re never going to have local accountability in Bahrain,” says al-Khawaja.

Nicholas McGeehan, a Gulf researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that “her (Zainab al-Khawaja’s) imprisonment should cause heads to hang in shame in Washington. Where the Gulf States are concerned, the U.S., the U.K. and the EU have not taken the side of brave and intelligent reformers like al-Khawaja, but with anti-democratic, rights-abusing monarchs.”

The U.S. and the U.K. have military bases in Bahrain.

The U.S. also supports the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the latter having conducted air strikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of International Humanitarian Law.

This Foreign Policy article, from April 25, 2016, asserts that “working through its military allies – principally the United States, Britain and Egypt – Saudi Arabia has succeeded in blocking actions to restrain its military conduct and highlight humanitarian costs of the conflict.”

When it comes to the choice between peace with the Palestinians and land, Israeli leadership has opted for land: more settlement, more expropriation of Palestinian property, more destruction of Palestinian homes, an ongoing colonial enterprise, the ongoing siege of Gaza and oppression of any form of resistance by Palestinians. Why wouldn’t they?

Last April, President Obama proposed granting Israel the largest package of military aid ever provided by the United States to another nation.

And the Palestinians are so dispossessed that they have nothing to offer at the table of negotiations.

Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria, as well as its diplomatic efforts, have supported President Bashar al-Assad. This support stems from – but not limited to – Russian interests in maintaining military naval bases in a key and influential area.

The world’s first humanitarian summit took place in Istanbul last week. Hundreds of humanitarian nongovernmental organizations – including Geneva Call (with whom I have worked), and Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian nonprofits that I support – invested time and effort in this summit.

However – out of skepticism or maybe out of realism – I tend to believe Doctors Without Borders, who pulled out of the World Humanitarian Summit, stating that “the summit has become a fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored.”

One critical issue that I believe the summit avoided is an arms embargo on culprit states. How can you address humanitarian concerns without addressing the weapons at the root of these concerns?

Where do we go from here? Is there a global crisis of values? What role, if any, can the churches in the West play to foster the respect of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa?

God willing, I will soon write a follow-up post to attempt to answer these questions. For now, I leave you with these questions to ponder on.

Wissam al-Saliby is the partnerships manager at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon. A version of this column first appeared on the Institute of Middle East Studies blog and is used with permission. He blogs at Ethiopian Suicides and Lebanonesia, and you can follow him on Twitter @lebanonesia.

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a two-part series. Part one is available here.