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Al Jazeera: Human Rights Rhetoric Grows in the Middle East

Author: Shadi Mokhtarim
September 7, 2011

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In this opinion piece, Shadi Mokhtarim, an assistant professor at American University, argues that Middle Eastern governments have entered into a "groundbreaking" human rights dialogue.

The wave of protest and change sweeping the Middle East has produced many firsts. Among them is Middle Eastern governments' reluctant foray into human rights politics. The early Arab response to Libya, though riddled with contradictions, was groundbreaking.

The Arab League decision to support a "No Fly Zone" over Libya in April, pledges by its Secretary General to pursue an investigation into Libyan human rights abuses in May, and Qatar's extensive support for Libya's opposition on humanitarian grounds effectively broke an unspoken pact that Arab states did not pose overt human rights challenges to each other as giving the framework increased credence could be detrimental to them all. Even more democratic Turkey was averse to risking the strong relations it was steadily developing with its neighbours by bringing up awkward human rights conversations.

The unprecedented move of denouncing a neighbour (that was not Israel) for its use of violence against a disaffected population in the Libyan case was last month followed by a chain of condemnations of the Syrian regime's repression of protestors challenging its rule. Although political calculations rendered the Assad regime more difficult to desert than Gaddafi's, the Arab League, the GCC, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, the PLO and, much more astoundingly, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have all moved to issue public rebukes of Syria's brutal crackdown on its citizens.

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