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The Middle East, Islam and human rights.

CONTENTS

Introduction

Background to Human Rights

Historical Confrontations

Islam and Human Rights

The 'Islamic State' and Human Rights

Middle East Governments and Human Rights

Recent Developments

Conclusion

Appendix I: Middle East States and Selected Human Rights Conventions

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The Middle East, Islam and Human Rights

Introduction

The Middle East is one of the major cradles of human civilisation and the source of some of its major religions. The region also remains as one of the most complex in the world. While comprising largely Arab and Muslim states it includes the Jewish state of Israel and Lebanon, where Maronite Christians form a substantial minority. There are also other ethnic groups such as Persians, Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Berbers and Nubians. There is a multiplicity of political systems which include personalised authoritarian, Marxist, monarchic and democratic regimes of different degrees. Despite these differences within the Arab world, there is the common heritage of Islam, opposition to foreign influences and the concentration of leadership, be they from the military, economic, traditional or technocratic elites and, the Arabic language. In all the Arab states, Pan-Arabism, the Palestinian issue and Islamic revival are integral parts of politics.

The aim of this paper is to provide an understanding of the issue of human rights from the perspectives of history, religion, the dynamics of politics and recent developments in the region. It seeks to remind us that the struggle to universalise human rights has been a slow process. The paper explains the antipathy of the region towards the West, the meaning of freedom in Islam and the struggle between religious and secular forces for power and legitimacy. While foreign influence will continue to play a part, the future of human rights in the Middle East will be determined by the people and governments of the region. There are some indications of change, albeit slow, both within the religious and secular arenas, of an increasing awareness of human rights within the region.

Background to Human Rights

Human rights is a legitimate concern for all of us as members of the international human community. We should however, be reminded that this increasingly universal concern has a relatively short history. 1 The development of international human rights continues to clash with the bedrock of political power, vested interests and the desire for an universally accepted standard. In 1919, countries which are now the major advocates of human rights, such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom, because of their own internal or colonial policies, were opposed to a call by Japan for a policy of non-racial discrimination to be included in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The British argument included the view that the 'solution of the racial question could not be attempted...without encroaching upon the sovereignty of states members' and that the Japanese proposal 'opened the door to serious controversy and to interference in the domestic affairs of states members of the League'. The origin for a moral basis to intervene, of current human rights advocates was raised in 1933, and rejected, by the League, in the case of Franz Bernheim, a German-Jew living in Upper Selesia. The two arguments, sovereignty of the state and the moral right of others to interfere in the domestic policies of other states, were rejected on the basis of majority votes taken by the League and had little to do with the intrinsic value of human rights per se. They are now, ironically, used by non-Western and Third World countries against the very countries which have since seen the light, particularly when their interests are not threatened. 2

Many governments that now strongly advocate and support human rights have themselves been guilty of violating and or ignoring these 'rights' in the recent past. Abuses still occur (the case of the Aborigines in Australia), despite efforts undertaken by governments. Internationally, human rights abuses have been ignored by governments when perceived national and strategic interests are at stake. During the recent Iran-Iraq War, the Western allies supported Iraq despite being aware of the killing of Kurds with mustard gas by the Iraqi government. This selective attention has led to charges of hypocrisy and "double-standards" being levelled against them. Countries in the Third World likewise are also guilty. Libya, which has been accused of human rights violations by the West, has established the Gaddafi International Human Rights Prize (worth US$250,000) in 1989. In 1991, the prize was awarded to the 'Red Indian People'.

The development of international human rights norms after the Second World War, under the United Nations Organisation, has been the result of competing political ideologies, leading to three generations of human rights. The United Nations Charter, in its preamble, has sought "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, (and) in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small". The first generation culminated with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR, in 1948. Pollis and Schwab have noted that the UDHR not only "reveals a strong Western bias but there has been a tendency to view human rights ahistorically and in isolation from their social, political and economic milieu". 3 The UDHR has been seen as "a great victory for the West" 4 and was viewed by the communist countries as a weapon of the Cold War. 5 This ideological conflict led to the second generation, the adoption of the two Covenants, one dealing with civil and political, while the other, with social, economic and cultural rights. Most Third World countries see the demand for human rights as power politics played by the West and have advocated the third generation of development rights. Increasingly, observance of human rights is becoming part of the conditions for economic aid by the developed countries. 6 Rosenbaum has warned that unless "we are willing to recognise seriously that people from cultures different from ours may have valuable and legitimate things to say about human rights, the 'human rights' questions can always be sidestepped by ideology and partisan politics". 7 The 1981 African Charter on Human Rights also stresses the duties of social solidarity as a complement to civil and political rights. 8

There is also the question of the time dimension, i.e. of expecting what is currently relevant, but which has taken centuries to evolve in the present liberal-democratic West, from developing countries whose populations lack even the most basic of needs and whose developments have been constricted in part by the international economy and politics. In dealing with the lack of democracy in the Arab countries for example, an open-minded Imam, muslim religious leader, has asked for time for the Muslim World, because Europe in 1390, the comparable time that Islam has existed, "was authoritarian, brutal, had a Pope and an Anti-Pope, and was wondering whether to have.....(another) Crusade". 9 The unstated point is that development and democratic change has to come from within the Muslim World. It is with these observations in mind that we now turn to the historical experience of the Middle East which provides an understanding for its strong antipathy towards the "West". 10

Historical Confrontations

Since the Fourth Century B.C., the Middle East has been in confrontation with the "West" from Alexander the Great, followed by the Romans in the Second Century B.C. After the advent of Islam, the Crusades were to continue the violent encounter. From 630 A.D. Islam has been the major factor in the history and life of the Arabs. The strength of the Islamic faith is seen by them as contributing, within a century, to the establishment of the Islamic Empire, which Bronowski described as "an empire of spectacular strength and grace", 11 stretching from Spain and southern France to the borders of China and India. The northern limits of the Empire were the borders of Gaul where the Muslim armies were stopped in 732 A.D. by Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours. Between the 8th to the 12th Century many of the then known world's centres of knowledge were found in Islamic lands. The science of the conquered lands were gathered by the muslims zealously and the intellectual content of Islam became a "pattern of contemplation and analysis". 12 The Renaissance of Europe began in part in Spain through the translation, from Arabic, of Greek classics which Europe had forgotten during the Dark Ages. This debt to the Arab world has rarely been acknowledged by the West. 13 It was noted that Kenneth Clark, in his popular television series on Civilisations, ignored the Islamic contribution entirely. 14 This was corrected by Bronowski in his Ascent of Man.

Until the late 18th century the Muslim world was indifferent to, and indeed felt superior to the Europeans. 15 Relations between the two since the first encounter, were largely limited, though not exclusively, to military matters. In 1174 Saladin justified commerce with the Christians primarily to buy arms and war materials. This continued through the Ottoman Empire, which began its expansion into Europe from the mid-14th century. The Ottoman Empire's armies and fleets, since the late 19th Century, were not only equipped with arms and materials from, but were also trained by, European powers. Arms and materials were financed, in part, by Italian banks. The recent Gulf War and its aftermath shows how little this basic relationship between the two regions has changed.

The decline of the Islamic world in the last two centuries was the result of simultaneous and/or successive attacks and subjugation of muslim lands by the non -Muslim European imperial powers. 16 France invaded Algeria in 1830 and established a protectorate in Tunisia in 1881 and later in Morocco. The Russians, between 1865-73, increasingly subjected the Caucasus and Central Asia to their control. The British occupied Egypt in 1882 and through the Anglo-Egyptian 'condominium', to all intents and purpose, ruled Sudan. The British Empire in India also led to British dominance in the Persian Gulf and southern Persia. Italy also invaded and conquered Tripolitania (Libya) early this century. By the eve of the First World War, spheres of influence and economic domination were established by the European powers within the Ottoman Empire. Threatened externally, and despite the activities of the Young Turks (who sought to modernise the Empire through Western ideas), these forces contributed to the Empire's decay and eventual disintegration. As a consequence of European colonial expansion, the Christian populations of the Balkans, which were part of the Ottoman Empire, sought independence and, supported by the various European powers, Greece, Serbia, Rumania and Bulgaria became independent states. The substantial and established muslim populations in these countries, according to Kedourie, were "imperilled or destroyed" 17 .

The present states of the Middle East are largely the result of the First World War. The Allied powers, in defeating Germany, which was supported by the Ottoman Empire, were given mandates by the League of Nations e.g., Britain and France over the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire. These mandate territories, with eventual independence, became the present Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. The Gulf States, acquired by Britain in the 19th Century, also became independent states. 18

The strong antipathy felt by the Arab World towards the "West" is the result of the historical encounters, past imperialism and, as many Arabs still feel, the current control of the region by Western powers. These feelings are strongly reflected in the actions of both the radical religious and political forces in the region. However, at the same time there are powerful barriers erected in most of the West: such as perceptions based on ignorance, media reports of extremist Islamic and Arab political activists, the lack of Arabic studies in institutions of higher learning, particularly in the United States, as well as religious convictions within Western culture which inhibit a sympathetic understanding of Arab culture and societies. 19 The end of the Gulf War has also seen, from the perspective of many Arabs, a new division between pro-West and anti-West forces within their world, thereby further humiliating the Arabs in not being able to control their own destiny.

While the West may explain the decline of the Arab world from its own perspective, Muslims certainly would not have understood it or found it of much use in explaining their predicament. In their own traditional categories, the conflict with Europe, which issued in such a dismal series of political and military reverses, would have been seen as a clash between Islam and Christendom - as the latest phase of a conflict in which, over the centuries, two worlds, two militant faiths, had confronted and defied one another. 20

For many muslims (not limited to the Arab world), while their present status is the result of many factors, "the root cause was the neglect of the Quran (the holy book of Islam) and the ignoring of the primacy of values that the Quran had sought to established". 21 The revival of Islam in the modern era is, in part, a response to this perception. In the 1980s, activist Islam in the political arena became synonymous in the Western mind with political extremism, terrorism, hostage ordeals and suicide bombings. This was a consequence, in part, of the Iranian revolution and the desperate politics, though legitimate from their perspective, of various groups within, inter alia, the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Some of these groups were supported and financed by Arab governments such as Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The limited success of extremist tactics led to an adoption by some movements and parties for electoral and diplomatic means to achieve their objectives. Electorally, their common campaign slogan "Islam is the solution" has won widespread support in Jordan and Algeria. 22 Ironically, these varied successes have also aroused fears, both domestic and international that, once in power, they will abolish democracy in favour of an Islamic state. In the case of Algeria, the decisive first-round electoral success of the Islamic Salvation Front, FIS, in January 1992 was denied by the intervention of the Army, which is linked to the National Liberation Front (the secular ruling party since independence in 1962). The move was tacitly welcome in the West since the second round of elections "would almost certainly have brought to power the Muslim fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front". 23 The FIS, like other Islamic parties sees democracy as a means to an end rather than as a system to be valued in itself but as The Economist pointed out, "the Arab governments that oppose such parties are no democrats either". 24

The division of muslim lands by the West has also led to the rise of state nationalism in the Arab world. Seen as a threat by Arab nationalists, various attempts have been made (e.g. by the founders of the Ba'ath Party and President Nasser of Egypt) to unite and establish the 'Arab Nation'. In the context of Arab nationalism, Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, as an anti-imperialist action, was "genuinely seen by the Ba'thi(sic) state as an extension of the total amount of freedom available to the Arab people". 25 Despite repeated failures, the continual calls for Arab unity attest to the potency of the idea. In an address to the Arab Lawyers' Union meeting held in Benghazi on 27 April 1991, President Gaddafi of Libya called for the abolition of Arab borders and for an Arab capital in Cairo. According to him, "This is one nation, one people, with one history, one fate and one culture". 26

Politics apart, the West remains useful and important to the Arab world which believes that it could use the same methods to achieve the power and prosperity of the West, and that "this could be done without endangering any of the essential values of Islam". 27 Being part of the international order, many parts of the Arab world has responded with a revival and resurgence in Islam to show its contemporary relevance. At the same time it is hoped that this will help stem the tide of further cultural disintegration and absorption by the West. These have unintended consequences. For the believers, having to choose which religious interpretation is to be accepted, given the linkage in some countries such as Saudi Arabia, of conservative Ulama (religious scholars) with the secular authority, while in others the two centers of powers are in conflict. The result is uneasy relationship between the religious movements and the secular Arab governments (the latter perceiving political Islam as a threat to their views and positions). At the same, Islamic revivalisim has also arouse fears in the West. 28

The internal struggles both religious and political within the Arab world and the terrorist activities of radical groups have led to a widespread perceptual problem, in the West in general and the United States in particular. As observed by Edward Said,

..there is a consensus on "Islam" as a kind of scapegoat for everything we do not happen to like about the world's new political, social and economic patterns. For the right, Islam represents barbarism; for the left, medieval theology; for the center, a kind of distasteful exoticism. In all camps, however, there is agreement that even though little enough is known about the Islamic world there is not much to be approved of there. 29

The fact is that within the Islamic world there are those who still cling to an unchanging view of Islam as being relevant for all times, while others seek, basing their interpretations on the same Islamic authorities, to deal with current problems in the light of changing circumstances.

Islam and Human Rights In examining the issue of human rights in the region, we need therefore to distinguish between what Islam has to say about human rights and the actions of states which are based on power and particular vested interests. Given that there is no one 'established' authority within Islam it is extremely difficult to generalise about human rights and Islam. Furthermore,

Shaken by a sudden and as yet incomplete modernisation process, the Islamic tradition is in a state of ferment. Exposure to diverse intellectual currents, including liberalism and Marxism, has given rise to different interpretations of Islamic scripture and a range of opinions on any given rights issue. 30

With this caveat, the following provides a generally accepted view expressed by acknowledged scholars of Islam.

The root meaning of 'Islam' in Arabic connotes both 'peace' and 'submission'. A muslim is thus one who submits to the will of Allah, the Arabic term for God. Islam is a total way of life and embraces all aspects of its believers' existence. To believers, Islam offers a framework of beliefs, duties, obligations, exhortations and sanctions. Islam also provides essential guidance at all levels in all fields. While claiming to be the final revelation of God, it accepts all previous revelations and the righteousness of all previous Prophets (including Jesus, accepted by Muslims as a precursor of Mohamad).

From the Islamic perspective, the foundation of freedom is essentially theological and is rooted in the obligations owed by human beings to God, who is the source of perfect freedom. 31 In terms of broad values and standards, there is endorsement for the UDHR. However, 'rights' for Muslims are linked to the mutual religious duties and moral obligations that an individual owes to his/her fellow beings, nature and Allah. Unless these are fulfilled, the individual cannot claim any right or freedom because they cannot be justified. 32 Muslims generally do not accept the Western concept of freedom because it is based on secular humanism and reject what they see as the anarchy of liberal individualism. In other words they see the West mistaking the part (individual) for the whole (community). This may be because, in the West, the emphasis appears more on 'rights' than on 'responsibilities' although the latter are also part of the UDHR.

For Muslims in general, Islamic law is supreme when it contradicts international law. This was reiterated by Iran, a signatory of the UN Declaration and the two Covenants without reservations, when it was asked to account for its abuse of human rights, after the Islamic revolution in that country. Iran maintains that it will continue to adhere to the UN documents which "are consistent with, or at least not contradictory to Islamic law". 33 However, President Rafsanjani of Iran, at a recent international Islamic conference, perhaps as a result of changing circumstances, has called on the Islamic world to work within the "international order" and said that there was no need to "rebel" against "international regulations". 34 It should be noted that as far as the United Nations Organisation is concerned, a member's obligations, as a party to the Covenants, are fully binding "and do not admit exceptions on account of constitutional problems, rules and regulations of municipal law, or cultural or historical background". 35 The problem between the two is the competing origins of authority, one divine, depending on faith, and the other, a refinement of human reasoning developed over years of struggle among the major powers of the world.

The Islamic faith, while having core beliefs, is differentiated in its practice. Islamic duties and obligations are defined in the Shari'ah (i.e. Islamic Law, meaning 'the way/road to follow'). The Shari'ah is based on the Quran, the Sunnah, which comprises the 'Six Books' of Traditions containing the Hadiths (sayings and practice of Prophet Muhammad at Medina), Ijmah, the consensus of opinion of the Ulama (religious scholars of the community) and the Ijtihad (the reasoned interpretation of these sources by judges on a particular case). In the absence of a priesthood and a strictly defined credo, Islam provides an umbrella under which different views have been expressed and taught. The Islamic World is divided into the Orthodox Sunnis (the majority, eighty per cent) and Shi'ites, the result of a disagreement over the successor of the Imamate, the spiritual and temporal leadership of Islam. Sunnis believe that the Imam need not be a descendant of the Prophet while the Shi'ites (mostly in Iran and southern Iraq) insist that he must be the descendant of Ali and Fatimah, his wife, the daughter of the Prophet. Despite the emphasis on complete submission and unanimity, there are four Sunni schools of orthodox jurisprudence or 'rites' named after their founders: the Hambali, the strictest (mainly Saudi Arabia); Shafi'is, the widest in extent (Egypt, Palestine-Syria, South Arabia and the Far East); Hanafi (Turkey and the Indian sub-continent) and the Malikis (Northern African States, Nigeria and Sudan). The four schools rely on traditional models, established by, and closed in the 9th century, for their interpretations. While the schools may conflict with each other from time to time, they have equal standing within the Sunni fold. The Shi'ites (mainly Iran) have developed their own laws which emphasise the Ijtihad.

The 'Islamic State' and Human Rights

If there is to be meaningful understanding of the Middle East and human rights, we need to distinguish between Arab governments, which are made up of individuals and/or elites and an Islamic government. From the above, we can deduce that attempts to protect human rights, or to be more specific human freedom, from being abused in the Middle East, human rights would paradoxically, be better served if Arab rulers and leaders, adhere faithfully to the tenets of Islam rather then to their own interests, power and positions. Contrary to popular belief, Islam does not encourage any one form of Government since it is concern primarily with human beings and Allah and not with systems. According to a highly respected authority, Dr. Said al-Ashmawy, Chief Justice of Egypt, True Islamic Government, if one follows the tradition of the Prophet, is the government of the people; a government which they freely elect and in which they share; a government which they control and supervise; a government which they may change peacefully, without bloodshed and without being renounced as heretics.... Authentic Islam knows nothing of theories of religious government. 36

The role of the State in Islam is to enforce the principles of the Shari'ah. 37 The State must create an environment in the territory under its jurisdiction that satisfies the socio-religious needs of the people. Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone, and hence the power of the Caliphate, the successors of Prophet Mohammed as ruler of the Islamic State, while given to believers who are virtuous, resides not in any person or a community but in those who believe and do good. It thus combines elements of theocracy (divine sovereignty) and democracy (counsel among the believers, a form of general will, though this is limited by the Shari'ah). The Islamic State exists to achieve social justice and promote the public good. Since both ruler(s) and people exist to serve God, there is the presumption that conflict will not exist and thus there is no adequate legal provision to protect the individual against the State. 38

Seventeen Arab states have Islam as their state religion. In many of them, the Shari'ah is applied in varying degree with other laws inherited from the colonial era. The exception is Saudi Arabia which applies the Shari'ah totally. In some, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia French-based codes have been adopted and the Shari'ah is followed only in civil matters. Many of these states have been influenced by the 1850 Turkish reform movement which attempted to modernise the political and legal systems of the Arab countries with that of the West. According to Abdul Aziz Said,

The establishment of national states in the contemporary Islamic world has been accompanied by intellectual and political institutional discontinuity with the old. Traditional Islamic institutions have lost their usefulness as organising principles and as safeguards for certain basic human rights. The Shari'ah which serves as a protective code for the individual muslim for centuries is suffering nearly total neglect. Human rights in the Islamic world are thus in a state of ferment. There is confusion and near anarchy. 39

The struggle for power between the Ulama and those who rule has been a perennial one in Islamic history. In part it is a struggle for legitimacy in the traditional sense, which unlike the modern legalistic limitation, includes a moral dimension, between the religious and secular powers. It is rare, as in Saudi Arabia, for the two to cooperate completely. This is further complicated by the division between conservative and reformist/radical members of the Ulama with differing attitudes towards the government. 40 For reformers, and there have been many over the years, the problem is how to apply the divinely ordained, and hence immutable, regulations to their times. Those, like their Christian counterparts in the past, whose views crossed the interests of the powers of the day have been persecuted and some executed. As recently as 1985, the Sudanese Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, the revered 76 year-old leader of the Republican Brotherhood, despite pleas from both within the Muslim world and the International Community, was executed in Khartoum on the charge of apostasy. He had advocated modern interpretations of the Shari'ah even though they may go against inherited wisdom. Others such as the Muslim Brotherhood, seeking to establish a pristine Islamic society, have resorted to political confrontation and violence in several Middle East states. Egypt's President Sadat was assassinated by the Brotherhood after signing the Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel.

The 'fundamentalists' (a term coined in the 1920s from the beliefs of fundamental Christians in the United States) of the Islamic world are no different from their Christian and Jewish counterparts (whose presence, though detected since the 1960s, has not achieved the same world-wide negative image). Their common belief is that "timeless religious texts can be translated directly into the time-bound human situation, as if nothing has changed". 41 Their victory in Iran has created the flawed, but popular image, in the West, that all muslims are like them, militant and intolerant. Strong, and in some cases, violent reactions by Islamic and political activists to The Satanic Verses further contribute to the negative image of muslims by the West. Ironically, the suppresion of demonstrations of support by the Arab masses for Saddam Hussein in the recent Gulf War were welcomed by sections in the West. 42 On the whole, the fundamentalists presently enjoy limited influence in the Arab world since they are contained, except in Iran, Algeria and to some extent in Jordan, through various means. They are far from cohesive and are divided into moderates and extremists. Saudi Arabia, helped Iraq against Iran during the war between the two countries, in part because of its fears of Islamic extremism. Secular Arab states such as Egypt and Syria have no love for the Islamic extremists either and have actively suppressed them. The Islamic Brotherhood has been banned in Egypt since 1954. In 1982, Syria, under President Assad, crushed a fundamentalist uprising in Hamah killing an estimated 10,000 people and destroying more than 80 mosques. Most of the 700 (of an announced 2,800 political prisoners) released late last year were members of the Muslim Brotherhood who spearheaded the rebellion. 43 Like all minority groups, the extremists use any means available to achieve their cause. Support for them will continue so long as Arab governments fail to deliver the economic and social goods to their citizens. The leaders of these groups, among others, have been the victims of suppression and violence by Arab state security agencies. 44

Middle East Governments and Human Rights

Governments all over the world maximise their own interests and many, while paying lip-service to ideals and principles of human rights, have ignored them when their interests are at stake. 45 The governments of the Middle East are no different. Even when elements of liberalism and democracy are found in their constitutions, the reality of politics and power often supersede these provisions. Consequently, Islamic activists have both been used and suppressed by various political leaders to serve political and economic ends and to maintain their positions. 46 While nine Arab states, Turkey and Israel are signatories to the UDHR, there have been reports of abuses in all the Middle East states. 47 These include seven States, whose legislatures have formal or informal human rights bodies. 48 Constitutional provisions to the contrary, the violation of human rights has occurred because,

Many states rely on exceptional laws: state security provisions, military or emergency laws. Though usually introduced as temporary measures, many have been in existence for years, and the manner in which these provisions are actually applied demonstrates the extent of governments' deliberate disregard of international human rights standard. Reports reaching the Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR) indicate that in every Arab country, violations of human rights are a recurring phenomenon, if not actually on the increase. 49

Arab politics has been described by some observers as a "Closed Circle", reflecting the traditional nature of the shame-honour matrix and characterised by centralisation and authoritarianism, affected by the use of violence. 50 Israel, according to Pryce-Jones, despite its democratic institutions, has also behave "like any other Middle Eastern power holder" and its invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was a "glaring example of power challenging as practiced in the Arab system". 51 The struggle, use and control of power in the Middle East on the whole, is highly personalised and the use of power is more blatant. The idea of an institutionalised and legitimate opposition and rights of citizens independent of the ruling party or leader has yet to be accepted. Consequently the lack of political consensus has meant that governments do not hesitate to act harshly when their positions are threatened be they from secular and/or religious groups or movements.

Recent Developments

The picture of the Middle East and human rights seems beset with insurmountable problems of competing religious beliefs and politics. A critical study notes that the Arab countries face a 'dual crisis of legitimacy' in terms of an oppressive undemocratic political order and interpretations of Islamic laws by an Ulama either in support of, or in opposition within the polity. 52 Nevertheless, there are indications that some progress, not always welcomed by conservatives, have been made in the area of religious law, despite the seemingly inflexible constraints, with reforms 'from the inside' by experts on the Shari'ah. These include a more liberal interpretation on the status of women, punishment and relations with non-muslims minorities. 53 The point to emphasise is that there is debate within the Islamic world on issues such as the Shari'ah and international law, government policies and human rights.

There have been an increasing number of international conferences on modernisation of Islamic law and on the subject of human rights organised by international organisations, and with, Arab jurists. In 1981, a "Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights", based on the Quran and the Sunnah, was promulgated under the auspices of the Islamic Council, a private organisation linked to the conservative Muslim World League. Though based on the UDHR, it contained ambiguities such as on the right to freedom of religion, "which suggest that its authors may not have been able to achieve a consensus among themselves about how human rights norms should be formulated". 54 As noted above these are part of the attempt to make Islam of contemporary relevance and as a defence against further encroachment by the West. Religious reforms or lack of it however, varies with the political dynamics and role of the Ulama in different Arab/muslim countries e.g. in Saudi Arabia, it is part of the establishment, while in Algeria, in opposition to the authorities.

Under the Arab Human Rights Program of the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences, Siracusa, in Italy, it is estimated that by 1990 at least 10,000 Arab students in Law faculties in the region are exposed to some course in human rights. 55 In 1986, under the auspices of the Institute, a 'Draft Charter on Human and People's Rights in the Arab World' was also approved by Arab experts. 56 The Draft included sections on Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Collective Rights of the Arab People, Measures for Safeguarding Human Rights, which involves the establishment of an Arab Commission and also an Arab Court of Human Rights. The Draft itself was based on one prepared by the General Administration for Legal Affairs of the Secretariat General of the League of Arab States. These will all help in the incremental awareness of, and the need for, human rights in the region.

In the non-government front, regional organisations such as the Arab Lawyers' Union and the Arab Organisation of Human Rights (AOHR), despite various setbacks and lack of official recognition by most governments in the region, have also increasingly made their views heard. 57 The AOHR was established in 1983 as a result of a meeting of 100 Arab intellectuals called by the respectable Arab Centre for Unity Studies. The meeting was held in Cyprus because no Arab country was prepared to host it. Its headquarters is based (with no official status) in Cairo with a second office, which has duplicates of all its documents in Geneva. Many of its active members are, or have been, political exiles. It is non-partisan and in Kuwait includes members from all parties. It does not accept funds from governments and survives on subscriptions from 50,000, members and mostly, anonymous donors. Its annual budget is US$150,000. 58 In addition to the AOHR, "a proliferation of indigenous human rights groups" have also operated in muslim north Africa in the past decade. 59

For various reasons, a controlled press, individual fears and threats to detainees' family members, reports of human rights violations in the region, with the exception of Israel, has been difficult to document. However, systematic methods and practices used by governments against human rights have been reported. 60 In the case of Israel, which has also been accused of human rights violations particularly in the Occupied Territories (by inter alia, the United States and Amnesty International), these have been justified on grounds that the Government has "no choice but to use force to prevent anarchy and protect the safety of both Arabs and Jews". 61 The fact that the Israeli society is open offers more sources for documentation of violations. More information does not necessarily imply a high prevalence of human rights abuse. As noted by AOHR in other situations, "this could be indicative of a high degree of freedom of enjoyment of human rights or, at least, exercise of freedom of expression and the right to obtain information, by virtue of the fact that such information reaches us from within those countries". 62

Conclusion

The advocates of human rights in the Middle East are confronted by the Arab experience with the West, Islam and politics. This may explain the underlying mutual antipathy between the West, as the major advocate of human rights and the Arab/Muslim world. There is a need to understand and differentiate various parts of this problem. On the part of the West an appreciation of Islam's contribution, and place in, human civilisation would be a positive step. Both sides have narrow perceptions of each other and this will continue unless positive steps are taken.

The attempt to universalise human rights is of recent origin and the UDHR has continued to evolve and accommodate the relevant views of different regions and perspectives. In trying to understand the situation of human rights in the Middle East, it is clear that major abuses remain as a consequence of the struggle for power and legitimacy both within states as well as in the region. On the issue of human rights, Islam, among other factors, has been used selectively by both governments and political/religious movements to either justify, protect and maintain the status quo or seen as an ideological and religious weapon used against the West. It is important however, to realise that there is pluralism within Islam and there are attempts to debate and reform inter alia, religious norms among the muslims. Islam is not, as commonly assumed, a monolithic religion, as communism, as an ideology, was once perceived to be by the West. Calls for human rights observance by foreigners have also been seen to give succour to opposition parties and movements in the individual states and hence resisted by individual states as interference in their domestic affairs.

The lack of consensus within individual countries in the region has meant that conflicts tend to have an 'all or nothing' approach. However, there are signs of changes by governments, as in the case of Iran mentioned above, in response to international opinion and the various needs of their countries. There are individuals and groups seeking less radical and practical alternatives though they are in the minority and have as yet have an uncertain future.

Advocates of human rights be they governments or organisations such as Middle East Watch and Amnesty International will continue to play a key role in keeping the issue alive. The concern for human rights in the Middle East will, in the long term, be better served by encouraging and supporting activities of citizens and non-governmental organisations within the countries, as well as continue to persuade the governments that their positions and strength both domestic and international ultimately depend on the support, rather than the abuse of their citizens. 63 There is still a long way to go before human rights in the Middle East becomes the normal rights of its citizens.

APPENDIX I - MIDDLE EAST STATES AND SELECTED INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS CONVENTIONS (IN FORCE)

>!/!^!|;>>!/!^!|;>>!/!/!|;>>!/!/!!;>>!/!^!|;>>!/**!| Slavery Conv. of 25 Sept 1926 Conv. on the Preven- tion and Punish- ment of the Crime of Genocide of 9 Dec 1948 Geneva Conv. Relative to the Treat- ment of Priso- ners of War of 12 Aug 1949 Geneva Conv. Relative to the Protec- tion of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 Aug 1949 Conv. for the Suppre- ssion of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploita- tion of the Prostitu- tion of Others of 2 Dec 1949 European Conv. for the Protec- tion of Human Rights and Funda- mental Freedoms of 4 Nov 1950 Suppl. Conv. on the Abor- tion of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institu- tions and Practices similar to Slavery of 7 Sept 1956 Inter- national Conv. on the Elimina- tion of All Forms of Racial Discrim- ination of 21 Dec 1965 Inter- national Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 16 Dec 1966 Inter- national Covenant on EconomicSocial and Cultural Rights of 16 Dec 1966 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refu- gees of 31 Jan 1967 Inter- national Conv. on the Elimina- tion of All Forms of Discr- imination against Women of 18 Dec 1979 Conv. Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punish- ment of 10 Dec 1984 Algeria

( 1)

X

X

X

X .........

X

X

X

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X Bahrain

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X .......... ......... .........

X ......... ........ ........ ......... ......... Egypt

( 1)

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X .........

X

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X

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X Iran ....... ........

X

X .......... .........

X

X

X

X

X ......... ......... Iraq

( 1)

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X

X

X .........

X

X

X

X ........

X ......... Israel

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X

X .........

X ......... ........

X ......... ......... Jordan

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X

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X .........

X

X

X ........ ......... ......... Kuwait

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X

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X ......... ........ ........ ......... ......... Lebanon

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X

X .......... ......... .........

X

X

X ........ ......... ......... Libya

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X ......... .........

X

X

X ........

X

X Morocco

( 1)

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X

X

X

X .........

X

X

X

X ......... ......... Oman ....... ........

X

X .......... ......... ......... ......... ......... ........ ........ ......... ......... Qatar ....... ........

X

X .......... ......... .........

X ......... ........ ........ ......... ......... Saudi Arabia

( 1)

X

X

X ..........

X ......... ......... ......... ........ ........ ......... ......... Syria

( 1)

X

X

X

X

X .........

X

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X ........ ......... ......... Turkey

( 1)

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X

X ..........

X

X ......... ......... ........

X

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X Tunisia

( 1)

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X ..........

X .........

X

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X UAE 2 ....... ........

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X ..........

X .........

X ......... ........ ........ ......... ......... Yemen R .......

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X ......... .........

X

X

X

X ......... 1 Based on deposit of instrument of ratification/accession. 2 UAE = United Arab Emirates.

Source: US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1990. <BREAK> </BREAK>

References

1 The following is from, Antonio Cassese, Human Rights in a Changing World, Cambridge. Blackwell, 1990. p.16-21

2 These arguments are summarised in Yi Ding, 'Opposing Interference in Other Countries' Internal Affairs Through Human Rights', Beijing Review, 6-12 November 1989. pp.10-12

3 A. Pollis and P. Schwab, "Human Rights: A Western Construct with Limited Applicability", in A.Pollis and P. Schwab (eds.) Human Rights: Cultural and Ideological Perspectives, New York. Praeger, 1980. p.17

4 Cassese, op.cit., p.43

5 When the UDHR was first drafted and approved, Article 17 granted to all the right to own property. This was, subsequently not included in the International Conventions, though remains part of the 1969 American Convention of Human Rights.

6 The European Community and Japan have announced recently that their aid will be linked to recipients' observation of human rights. The EC recently refused to give US$204.3 million to Syria because of of human rights abuses. For a summary of United States laws designed to influence the behaviour of other countries on human rights see William J.Barnds, "Democracy, Human Rights and U.S. Policies", Freedom Review, Vol. 22, No. 5 Oct/Nov. 1991 pp.27-31

7 Alan S.Rosenbaum (ed.), The Philosophy of Human Rights, London. Aldwych Press, 1980. p.xv 8 See Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim and Francis M.Deng (eds), Human Rights in Africa: Cross Cultural Perspectives, Washington. Brookings Institution, 1990.

9 "Islam and the West", The Economist, 22 December 1990. pp.16-18

10 The concept of 'West' is used both in the geographical and, since the 19th Century, cultural and ideological sense.

11 Joseph Bronowski, The Ascent of Man, London. BBC, 1973. p.165

12 ibid. p.166

13 Habib Chatty, "Islam Finds Itself", in Babara F. Stowasser (ed.), The Islamic Impulse, London. Croom Helm & Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1987. p.217.

14 Peter Mansfield, The Arab World, New York. Thomas Y.Crowell Co., 1976. p.495

15 See Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West, in Edward Ingram (ed.), National and International Politics in the Middle East, London. Frank Cass, 1986. pp.16-30

16 See Elie Kedourie, Islam in the Modern World and Other Studies, London. Mansell, 1980. pp.1-32

17 ibid., p.2

18 For an example of the arbitrariness of borders in the Middle East, see Jolyon Jenkins, "Shifting Sands: Why Kuwait is so Small?", New Statesman and Society, 8 February 1991. pp.12-3

19 For an excellent analysis of how the media and experts determine how we see the Muslim world see E. W. Said, Covering Islam, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1981. In the US, there are only 4 undergraduate degrees in Arabic compared to 256 in Russian and 140 in Chinese in 1988-9. David Aikman, "Perplexitas Arabica", The National Interest, No. 25 Fall 1991. p.80-1. In Australia it was observed that the attitude of Anglo-Celtic Australians towards new Asian migrants, reserve "even greater scepticism for our intake of Middle East Muslims". See David Jenkins, "Immigration and the National Psyche", Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 1992.

20 Kedourie, ibid., p.2

21 M.Z. Khan, Islam and Human Rights, 4th Ed., Tilford. Raqeem Press, 1989 . p.131

22 R. Wright, "Islam's New Political Face", Current History, Vol.90 No.552, January 1991. p.25

23 See for example, " Democracy has its Drawbacks", Editorial, The Age, 15 January 1992

24 "Algeria Votes for Islam", Editorial, The Economist, 4 January 1992

25 Samir al-Khalil, "No Cheers for Democracy", New Statesman and Society, 31 August 1990. p.13

26 Summary of World Broadcasts, ME/1059 A/6, BBC, 30 April 1991

27 Kedourie, op.cit., p.7

28 The resurgence of Islam not only in the Middle East but within the Soviet Union, China and other parts of the world has led some commentators to warn that it will lead to conflict with the West. See Douglas Davis, "West Faces 'Inevitable' Muslim Clash", The Weekend Australian, 28-29 July 1990 and Graham Barnett, "Two Worlds on Collusion Course", The Age, 21 February 1991

29 op.cit., p.xv

30 Ann E. Mayer, "Current Muslim Thinking on Human Rights", in Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim & Francis M. Deng (eds.) Human Rights in Africa, Washington. Brookings Institution, 1990. p.133

31 Syyed Hossien Nasr, "The Concept and Reality of Freedom in Islam and Islamic Civilisation", in Rosenbaum, op.cit., pp.95-101

32 Abdul Aziz Said, "Human Rights in Islamic Perspectives", in Pollis and Schwab, op.cit., p.92 and Costa Luca, "Discrimination in the Arab Middle East", in Willem Veenhoven (ed.) Case Studies on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: A World Survey, Vol.1, The Hague. M. Nijhoff, 1975 p.216

33 Theodor Meron, "Iran's Challenge to the International Law of Human Rights", Human Rights Internet Reporter, Vol.13 No.1 Spring 1989. pp.8-10

34 Middle East Economic Digest, 7 February 1992, p.7

35 Quoted in ibid. It should be noted that International Conventions, when rectified by some governments, e.g. the United States, are subject to the constitutional provisions of the individual states.

36 Said al-Ashmawy, "Islamic Government", Middle East Review, Vol. XVIII, No.3 Spring, 1986. p.12. This view is not accepted by some muslims. Five of the author's books, some of which have been in circulation for years, were recently seized by religious authorities at the Cairo International Book Fair. They were released, after President Mubarak intervened following an outcry by the media. See Max Rodenbeck, "Religious Censorship in Egypt", Middle East International, 24 January 1992, p.14

37 Abdul Aziz Said, op.cit., p.87

38 See Donna E.Arzt, "The Application of International Human Rights Law in Islamic States", Human Rights Quarterly, Vol.12 No.2 May 1990. p.205-7

39 op.cit. p.88

40 During the Gulf War rival meetings of the Ulama made declarations that the conflict was a Jihad, Holy War and their opponents as acting against Islam in an effort to win support among muslims throughout the world. The Age, 15 September 1990

41 Jonathan Sacks, "Fundamentalism", 1990 Reith Lectures: 5, The Listener, 13 December 1990.

42 See Maha Azzam, "The Gulf Crisis: Perceptions in the Muslim World", International Affairs, Vol. 67 No.3 1991 pp.473-85

43 The Times, 21 December 1991

44 For a brief analysis of the relationship between Islamic extremists and the Arab governments, see Tony Walker, "The Devil take Democracy", Sydney Morning Herald, 18 January 1992

45 For the case of the United States, see Jerome J. Shestack, "Human Rights, the National Interest, and U. S. Foreign Policy", and Aryeh Neier, "Human Rights in the Reagan Era: Acceptance in Principle", both in Marvin E. Wolfgang (ed.), Human Rights Around the World, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 506, Nov.1989 pp.10-41

46 For example President Saddam Hussien during the Gulf War. For a detailed case see C. Fluehr-Lobbaan, "Islamization in Sudan: A Critical Assessment", and G. R. Warburg, "The Sharia in Sudan: Implementation and Repercussions, 1983-89". Both in The Middle East Journal, Vol.44 No.4, 1990. pp. 610-623 and pp. 624-637 respectively.

47 Appendix 1 provides the list of human rights documents signed by Governments of the region. For details of violations within individual countries see U.S. Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990, Washington, February 1991

48 Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Morocco, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey and Republic of Yeman. Inter-Parliamentary Union, Parliamentary Human Rights Bodies World Directory 1990, Geneva. 1990

49 AOHR Campaign Team, "Freedom for Prisoners of Conscience in the Arab World: The AOHR's Campaign, in Collaboration with the Arab Lawyers' Union", J. of Arab Affairs, Vol 9, No.1, 1990 p.24

50 See the polemic interpretation of the Arabs by David Pryce-Jones, The Closed Circle, London, Paladin, 1989 and Mordechai Nisan, "Human Rights in the Arab Countries", Middle East Review, Special Studies No.2 1981. pp.6-7.

51 ibid., p.220

52 Ann Mayer, Islam and Human Rights, Boulder. Westview Press 1991. p.209

53 See As'ad AbuKahlil, "A New Arab Ideology?: The Rejuvenation of Arab Nationalism", The Middle East Journal, Vol.46 No.1 Winter 1992, pp.32-34 and Abdullahi A. An-Na'im, "Religious Minorities under Islamic Law and the Limits of Cultural Relativism", Human Rights Quarterly, Vol.9 No.1, February 1987 pp.1-18

54 Mayer, ibid., p.27 and pp.173-5

55 For details see M.Cherif Bassiouni, "The Arab Human Rights Program of the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences, Siracusa, Italy", Human Rights Quarterly, Vol.12 No.3 August 1990. pp.365-96

56 The Draft is available from the Parliamentary Library. For a discussion of earlier and subsequent publications and documents on Islam and human rights by muslims see Mayer, 1991, op.cit., Ch.2.

57 A.Youssoufi, "Human Rights in Arab Countries", The Review (ICJ), No. 39 December 1987. pp.33-5

58 Liesl Graz, "Campaigning for Human Rights in the Arab World", Middle East International, 1 December 1989.p.18

59 Susan Waltz, "Making Waves: the Political Impact of Human Rights Groups in North Africa", Modern African Studies, Vol.29 No.3 September 1991. p.482

60 See AOHR Campaign Team, op.cit. and U.S.Department of State, op.cit.

61 See State of Israel, Ministry of Justice, Comments of the Human Rights Department on the Section Dealing with Israel and the Administered Areas in Amnesty International's 1990 Annual Report. Not dated.

62 AOHR, "Human Rights Situation in the Arab World: Introduction to AOHR Report for 1988", J of Arab Affairs, Vol.9, No.1 1990 p.7

63 See Laurie S. Wiseberg, "Protecting Human Rights Activists and NGOs: What More Can Be Done?", Human Rights Quarterly, Vol.13 No.4 1991 pp.525-544