04 March 2007

05 March 2007 - Arab League apartheid


(Highway sign in Saudi Arabia. Source: Little Green Footballs)

The reports are in on Israel Apartheid Week, which was held last month in a handful cities and on several university campuses across North America and in the UK. The story was the same everywhere, from New York to Oxford. Hateful, bigoted diatribes from the podium; real debate quashed anytime someone with a different view tried to speak. Utter demonization of Israel—all in the name of human rights.

I am tired of it. So, in the service of fair and open debate, I offer a description of “apartheid” as it is actually practiced among the member and observer states of Israel’s neighbors in the Arab League. My information is largely drawn from the latest Freedom House survey and personal knowledge. The summaries below barely begin to tell the story of human rights abuse and discrimination in these countries.

I do not want to demonize Arab countries, still less Arab people, who are the most direct victims of “apartheid” in their own countries. But I think that if Israel-haters are going to throw the label “apartheid” around, a severe reality check is in order. And I think that in future, students at any campus that is threatened with “Israel Apartheid Week” should organize an “Arab League Apartheid Week” in response.

Of course, the labeling game takes us nowhere in the long run. So I would recommend that any “Arab League Apartheid Week” be accompanied by a petition drive supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state that is democratic, tolerant and at peace with its neighbors. That, hopefully, would take the debate beyond name-calling and towards a productive effort towards resolving the conflict.

But until then, I think the human rights practices of Israel’s neighbors must be exposed to the same level of scrutiny that Israel faces. Abuses in Arab countries do not excuse abuses by Israel, which deserve to be addressed in their own right. However, Israel-bashers should have to explain why they continue to ignore the far graver abuses practiced by every single other country in the Middle East.

First, as a basis of comparison, Israel:

Israel is a full democracy. Jews and Arabs enjoy equal political rights. Press freedom is guaranteed and citizens enjoy freedom of expression, of assembly, and of association. Racial discrimination is illegal. Freedom of religion is protected for all faiths. The judiciary is fiercely independent and women have full equality. Problems persist in the Palestinian territories; these are largely the result of ongoing conflict.

Next, apartheid South Africa:

Apartheid South Africa featured rule by a white minority government and the complete disenfranchisement of the black majority. Media freedom was subject to severe restrictions. Freedom of expression, assembly and association were limited. Many political activists and were banned, arrested or killed by police. The judiciary retained only partial independence. Women’s rights were weakly protected.

And now, the member and observer states of the Arab League:

Algeria

Algerians cannot change their government democratically. Journalists who report human rights violations or corruption risk jail. Islam is the state religion. Under the state of emergency, freedom of assembly is restricted and the judiciary is not independent. Torture is used, and some suspects are “disappeared.” The rights of the Berber minority (20%) are not recognized. Women suffer severe discrimination.

Bahrain

Power has been held by a single family for two centuries. Political parties are illegal. Freedom of expression is limited, and websites have to register with the government. The judiciary is controlled by the executive, and the royal family controls internal security. The Shia majority is underrepresented in government and faces social discrimination. Women are not granted equal protection of the law.

Comoros

One of the few members of the Arab league in which democratic change is possible. Islam is the state religion, and other religions face restrictions; detainees sometimes face forced conversion. Freedom of expression is not fully respected and security forces put down demonstrations with disproportionate force. The former president tried, but failed, to change the constitution to allow himself to remain in office.

Djibouti

Democracy is largely a sham, as the ruling party uses its incumbency to entrench its power. The government owns the main media outlets and freedom of speech is not respected; journalists are jailed if they cover such issues as human rights abuses. Islam is the state religion. Female genital mutilation is a common practice. Opposition groups are harassed and their members are subject to detention.

Egypt

Despite recent elections, Egypt remains an autocracy, and opposition leaders face imprisonment. Freedom of assembly and association barely exiss, and freedom of speech is closely restricted. All TV is state-owned; independent journalists are harassed, and certain books and films are routinely banned. Islam is the state religion. Homosexuality is criminalized. Female genital mutilation is common.

Eritrea

The country is dominated by an autocratic government that suppresses opposition severely. All broadcasting is state-controlled and there is virtually no freedom of the press. Members of minority Christian faiths are persecuted. Students are subject to a form of conscription bordering on forced labor. The judiciary is not independent and torture and other abuses are common, especially toward political prisoners.

Iraq

The country recently held its first democratic elections, and political parties are flourishing. Sectarian violence has led to harsh crackdowns. Freedom of expression is respected, though extremists often target journalists. Freedom of religion is upheld by the government but has been hurt by Sunni-Shia conflict. The judiciary is independent but prison practices remain foul. Women’s rights are improving.

Jordan

An absolute monarchy controls the country. Freedom of expression is restricted and journalists are punished for visiting Israel, with which Jordan is at peace. Jews are barred from citizenship by law. Intelligence agents monitor the press. Islam is the state religion. Freedom of assembly is limited and arrest is often arbitrary. Palestinians are victims of discrimination, as are women, who face honor killings.

Kuwait

The royal family controls the country. Political parties are banned and opposition leaders harassed by the state. Freedom of expression and Internet use are restricted. 300,000 Palestinians were expelled in 1990-2. Islam is the state religion and other faiths must practice in private. There is no judicial independence and freedom of assembly and association are limited. Women face wide discrimination.

Lebanon

The government is dominated by Syria, and faces constant pressure from Hezbollah, a terrorist militia. Parliamentary democracy is largely a sham. Press freedom is wider than in other Arab states but is still limited. Security forces routinely use arbitrary arrests and torture. Citizenship is denied to Palestinians, who face broad discrimination. Women also face some legal and social restrictions.

Libya

Controlled by Qaddafi, the country remains one of the world’s least free. Opposition is illegal and dissent policed by state security forces. Media freedom is non-existent. The government monitors mosques and academic freedom is nil. Freedom of assembly and expression are suppressed. The judiciary is not independent and torture is common. The Berber minority suffers discrimination, as do women.

Mauritania

A military coup in 2005 has led to slow democratic reforms. Press freedom and freedom of assembly were non-existent until recently. Islam is the state religion and other religions are repressed. Slavery is still practiced in parts of the country and racial discrimination against black people is widespread. The judiciary is not independent. Women face discrimination, and many suffer genital mutilation.

Morocco

The country remains a monarchy. Morocco has also brutally occupied Western Sahara for 30 years. Opposition parties exist but are forbidden to challenge the monarchy. Critical journalists are jailed, and the state dominates the media. Academic freedom and freedom of association are restricted. Though there is religious tolerance, Jews are targets of terror attacks. Women still face legal discrimination.

Oman

The country remains an autocracy. Political parties are banned and freedom of expression is limited. Government censorship of the media is common and journalists who criticize the government are arrested. Islam is the state religion and other faiths face restrictions. The judiciary is controlled by the sultan and trials are often held in secret. Africans suffer various kinds of discrimination, as do women.

Palestine

One of the few Arab polities to hold democratic elections, the Palestinian Authority yet exhibits repression independent of Israeli occupation. There is no freedom of the press. The government sponsors anti-Jewish incitement, and land sales to Israelis are punishable by death. Islam is the state religion and religious identification is mandatory. The judiciary is not independent. Women are exposed to honor killings.

Qatar

The emir controls the government, and power is hereditary. Freedom of expression enjoys some protections, but Internet sites are censored. Islam is the state religion; other religions are respected but apostasy is a capital offense. Freedom of assembly, though officially protected, is limited in practice. The judiciary is not independent. Women have some rights but need a man’s permission to get a driver’s license.

Saudi Arabia

Despite a few democratic reforms, the country remains a theocratic autocracy. There are no political parties and no media freedom; offending journalists are banned. There is no religious freedom; Islam is the state religion, period. Petty crimes are punished with corporal punishment, even beheading. Discrimination against Shiites and foreigners is common. Women are virtually non-citizens.

Somalia

Attempts to establish a democratic government have been hampered by civil war and religious and separatist strife. There is no meaningful freedom of the press. Islam is the state religion and other religions are not allowed. There is no rule of law and human rights abuses are rife. Women are the victims of severe discrimination and genital mutilation. Anarchy prevents any real freedom.

Sudan

The autocratic, Arab-dominated government continues to carry out a genocide in Darfur that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Media freedom is non-existent. Islam is the state religion and Christians are victims of persecution. The judiciary is not independent, and human rights abuses are widespread. Women face discrimination and are subject to systematic rape by Janjaweed militiamen.

Syria

The Ba’ath dictatorship is one of the most repressive in the world. Dissidents are arrested and tortured. There is no freedom of the press, freedom of expression or of assembly. A state of emergency has existed for over 40 years. The constitution requires a Muslim president; government is dominated by the Alawite minority, while the Kurdish minority is repressed. Women still face legal discrimination.

Tunisia

The country has been ruled by the same dictator for 20 years. Press freedom is completely non-existent and critical journalists are imprisoned. Islam is the state religion. The judiciary is not independent and trials are largely kangaroo courts. The state routinely uses torture and solitary confinement to punish dissidents. Women enjoy legal protections but suffer discrimination in inheritance law.

United Arab Emirates

The country, which has never held an election, is a total autocracy. There are no political parties and freedom of expression is curbed. Islam is the state religion, though there is religious tolerance. There is no freedom of assembly or association. Non-citizens suffer discrimination, and the judiciary is not independent. Child labor has been common in the camel racing industry, and women suffer discrimination.

Yemen

The country is a virtual one-party state, despite regular parliamentary elections. The media is severely repressed and critical journalists are harassed and beaten. Islam is the state religion and sharia is the foundation of law. Jews and other minorities suffer severe discrimination. The judiciary is controlled by the executive and women face numerous restrictive laws as well as the threat of honor killings.

81 Comments:

At 7:33 AM, Anonymous dounia said...

Good Evening,

Just some remarks about Morocco: Morocco is a Kingdom where men and women are legaly equal since the revision of the Moudouwana.

About western Sahara, Morocco is proposing a large Autonomy for the sahrawis (the majority of them already live in morocco).

Many journalists in Morocco criticize the Kingdom without being jailed. Try to read the moroccan press (arbic and frensh) and you'll be surprised.

A big hello from Morocco!

 
At 9:53 AM, Blogger Joel said...

Hi Dounia,

Thanks for your post about Morocco. I will check out the Moroccan press - if you have any links to suggest, that would be most helpful.

I had heard about the legal reforms to the status of women, as well as about increasing press freedom.

I think these are developments to be encouraged. However, I still think Morocco's human rights situation is deficient in many regards.

Do you happen to work for the Moroccan government, by any chance?

It is great to hear from a new friend overseas. I hope you will keep visiting the blog in future.

Joel

 
At 1:05 PM, Anonymous mike said...

Dounia, Morocco is certainly moving in the right direction where human rights and democracy is concerned. The King and the government should be praised and supported in these moves.

But we should not use previous progress to obscure what progress still needs to take place. Morocco is still far from being a democracy. We (both your government and those non-Moroccans that support peace and freedom) need to ensure that this progress continues.

Nonetheless, I think Joel’s general point is an excellent one. He has clearly exposed the hypocrisy of serial Israel bashers that hide under the guise of human rights champions. Sure Israel has numerous problems that need to be addressed but they pale in comparison to those of her neighbors (Morocco included).

 
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