RIGHTS: Arabs? Forget About Them – They Are Just Citizens!
Says Madawi Al-Rasheed, professor of religious anthropology at King’s College in London and the Report’s core team member: “The civil state ruled by laws that respect human rights is the best guarantor of human security." But in the Arab region, states are far removed from this ideal, he adds.
BY FAREED MAHDY (IDN Middle East Special Correspondent)
July 31, 2009
Authoritarian states, flawed constitutions, unjust laws that deny citizens their rights, alienation, oppression of women, poverty, unemployment, sectarian violence and ethnic conflicts, are just some of a long list of violations of fundamental rights Arab citizens suffer every single day.
All this comes from within. Add environmental pollution, international terrorism, large population movements, global financial meltdown and the rise of other cross-border threats such as pandemics, drug trade and human trafficking – caused by factors intruding from without.
Add further the impacts of military occupation and armed conflicts in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Occupied Palestinian Territory, and multiply by 330 million, the number of persons who inhabit the region – there you have a panoramic picture of the so-called Arab world.
All this and much more contributes to profound Arab human insecurity that undermines human development.
These findings are not harvested from vacuum; they are listed in the Arab Human Development Report 2009 released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Some Arabs have undoubtedly attained high levels of superfluous luxury manifested in the latest models of deluxe cars, microcomputers and sophisticated cell phones and a multitude of electronic gadgets at home. Others are being sent to famous, expensive Western universities to bring a prestigious degree or PHD to impress with.
But when it comes to what does really matter — that is to say, human development and human security — most of the Arabs are far removed from even a smattering of the fundamentals of security. Though, human security is the key to human development.
“Human security is not merely about survival; it is about re-launching people at risk on a safer course, supported by political, economic, social and cultural building blocks for a better life,” says the report which focuses this year on ‘Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries’.
“Human insecurity is palpable and present in the alienation of the region’s rising cohort of unemployed youth and in the predicaments of its subordinated women, and dispossessed refugees,” it adds.
Then the report goes straight to the point: “In Arab countries, a widespread lack of human security undermines human development.”
Prepared by independent scholars drawn from the region, the report argues that human security is a prerequisite for human development, and that “the widespread absence of human security in Arab countries undermines people’s options".
The report emphasises: “Human security in the Arab countries is often threatened by unjust political, social, and economic structures; by competition for power and resources among fragmented social groups; and, in some cases, by the impacts of external military intervention."
It argues that the concept of human security is “a useful lens for viewing challenges to, and envisioning solutions for, human development in the Arab region".
“The tendency is to think of security only in military or state security terms,” says Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States and UN Assistant Secretary-General.
“But the security of people themselves is threatened not just by conflict and civil unrest, but also by environmental degradation, discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and hunger.” he points out.
“Only if these sources of insecurity are addressed in a holistic manner will the people of the Arab region be able to make progress in human development.”
The report makes it clear that piecemeal policy approaches will not suffice. Employment generation programmes, for example, will not reach their full potential if people do not have proper nutrition and healthcare.
HOW TO IMPROVE
The report identifies several ways that Arab countries could improve human security: “Strengthen the rule of law to guarantee essential rights, freedoms and opportunities for all, and to resolve conflicts over power and resources, which create great instability.”
In six Arab countries, the report says, there is an outright ban on the formation of political parties, while restrictions on political activities and civic organizations in other countries often amount to de facto prohibition.
“National security measures such as the declaration of emergency law,” which is in force in Egypt for 30 years now, “often serve as a pretext to suspend basic rights, exempt rulers from constitutional limitations, and afford security agencies sweeping powers.”
Says Madawi Al-Rasheed, professor of religious anthropology at King’s College in London and the Report’s core team member: “The civil state ruled by laws that respect human rights is the best guarantor of human security.".But in the Arab region, states are far removed from this ideal, he adds.
Whereas some analysts treat social and political identity differences as a source of insecurity in the Arab countries, the authors of this report argue that the diversity of the population in Arab countries requires insightful management by the state under the larger concept of full citizenship.
Protect the environment by strengthening institutions, enacting and enforcing laws, integrating environmental concerns into development planning, and raising environmental awareness through youth education.
IN THE DESERT
Desertification — of which UNDP reports on the region never lose sight — is threatening about 2.9 million square kilometres, or roughly one-fifth of the total area of the Arab countries. Subsequently, natural resources are being depleted at an alarming rate, as population pressures mount.
The average number of live births per woman in the Arab region is 3.6 compared to a global average of 2.6. At this growth rate, the region is expected to be home to nearly 385 million people by 2015, up from approximately 330 million now.
“The human security of people in the Arab region depends, first and foremost, on the health of the environment that sustains all of us,” says Amat Al Alim. “Urgent action is needed to put the region on a development path, which is more sustainable.”
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
The authors of the report also point to the need to safeguard the rights of women by changing laws and attitudes, which entrench gender-based violence discrimination.
The report notes that “women in Arab countries have little access to justice and few possibilities of legal redress when they are victims of violence. In conflict areas, women’s insecurity increases sharply.”
“Though violence against women can be found in every country, women in societies with entrenched male dominance, patriarchal kinship patterns, and legalized discrimination — the situation in many Arab countries — are acutely vulnerable,” says Munira Fakhro.
A former associate professor at the University of Bahrain and an advisory board member for the Arab Human Development Report 2009, Munira Fakhro adds: "Much of the violence against Arab women is inflicted unseen in the home, on wives and sisters, daughters and mothers.”
OIL IS NOT EVERYTHING
The UNDP report also deals with the need to address “the weak structural underpinnings of the Arab oil economy and move toward a more diversified, knowledge-based economy that provides sufficient employment.”
Arab countries are greatly exposed to the fluctuations of oil prices, as oil accounts for more than 70 percent of the region’s exports. The region also has the world’s highest unemployment rate — 14.4 percent versus a world average of 6.3 percent.
The report predicts: “Given current population growth, the Arab countries will have to create 50 million new jobs by 2020 to accommodate the anticipated workforce.”
Says Walid Khadduri, consultant for the Middle East Economic Survey and the report’s core team member: “The fabled oil wealth of the Arab countries presents a misleading picture of their economic situation, which masks the structural weaknesses of many Arab economies and the resulting insecurity of countries and citizens alike.”
The report exhorts the Arabs to tackle poverty and end hunger, which persists despite the comparative affluence of the region. “An estimated one in five people in the Arab region lives below the internationally recognized poverty threshold of US $2-per-day.”
A significantly larger proportion of Arabs in countries studied by the report, however, lives under nationally-determined poverty lines and still cannot afford bare necessities. “Accordingly a more accurate estimate would be that two in five Arabs live in poverty.”
Large segments of the population in low-income countries face basic deprivation, reflected, for example, in inadequate access to safe water and a high incidence of underweight children.
The number of undernourished persons in the region increased from around 19.8 million in 1990-1992 to 25.5 million in 2002-2004.
“Economic security and food security are critical components of human security,” says Walid Khadduri, consultant for the Middle East Economic Survey and another core team member of the report.
“Though the Arab region overall has a comparatively low poverty rate, people in the least developed Arab countries and marginalized groups within affluent countries face serious deprivation,” he notes.
The report emphasises the need to boost public health by expanding access to affordable, quality healthcare with an emphasis on preventive medicine, combating cultural practices which harm women’s health, and promoting compassionate public information campaigns on HIV/AIDS combined with increased testing and treatment.
“A human security approach to health entails treating health not just as the absence of disease, but as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being,” says Rafia Ghubash, president of the Gulf University in Bahrain and an advisory board member for the report.
“Human security in the Arab region requires making health a human right,” she adds.
OCCUPATION AND MILITARY INTERVENTION
Significantly, the UNDP report does not shy away from stressing the need “to end occupation, armed conflict, and military intervention, which cause human suffering, erase decades of economic development, and undermine the fragile progress of political reform by bolstering extremist forces and also undermining moderate voices.”
More than 17 million people in the Arab region have been forced by violent conflict to flee their homes, making this the region of the world with the highest number of refugees and internally displaced persons.
“Occupation and military intervention in the region have the gravest effects on the Palestinian, Iraqi, and Somali people,” says Clovis Maksoud, professor of international relations at the American University in Washington D.C. and an advisory board member for the report.
“The ongoing interventions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Iraq, and Somalia undercut human security in other Arab countries as well.”
These are some of the key facts and recommendations listed in the Arab Human Development Report 2009, which was prepared through a highly consultative process drawing on the contributions of over 100 scholars.
The report is also informed by a series of youth forums on human security, an opinion poll on selected aspects of human security, and a series of essay-contributions from a representative and diverse mix of Arab policy leaders and intellectuals.
This year’s report is the fifth volume in the series of the Arab Human Development Reports sponsored by the UNDP.
Previous studies argued that severe deficits in freedom, women’s empowerment, and knowledge were formidable barriers to progress and development in the region.
Things appear to have stayed put since the first report was published in 2002. But at the same time there are indications that the saturation point has been reached.
So far, the overwhelming majority of Arab regimes have been mostly keen about their own survival, safety and welfare, with the full blessing of Western democracies, which call many of them ‘friends’, ‘allies’ and ‘moderate’.
They make the Arab regimes feel well guarded — a feeling that also the Shah of Iran had. But they may meet the same fate as the Shah who was indeed armed to the teeth, against his own people. – 31.07.09
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