PhD proposal – The human rights in the middle east before and after Arab revolutions

PhD proposal – The human rights in the middle east before and after Arab revolutions

Executive Summary

The Arab Spring refers to a period of dramatic changes in the Middle East, where there were multiple different uprisings across the region, by individuals and groups of individuals believing that their own rights had been overlooked by the government. As part of this, issues of human rights have emerged, as a result of numerous human rights violations which were experienced, prior to the uprisings, something which was deemed to be substantially influential in the decision to protest against government behaviours.

The research here contends that developing a more robust strategy for the protection of human rights within the Middle East region is a real possibility, following the uprisings; however, it is not likely to happen quickly or easily and therefore mapping out the best way forward following the Arab Spring is critical[1].

Introduction and Background

The Arab Spring refers to a dramatic period of discontent and revolution, across the Middle East, which began on 18 December, 2010. As part of this uprising, there were several protests and demonstrations which took place across the region, with rulers being pushed from power, in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt and with further discontent being seen in other countries, such as Algeria, Syria, Iraq and Kuwait. Clashes also emerged on the borders between countries, with minority groups taking the opportunity to have their voices heard. In addition, there were several instances of more minor protests and demonstrations taking place, as well as the more revolutionary uprisings, all of which have arguably paved the way for a new political agenda, as well providing as opportunities to improve the human rights’ agenda, in the Middle East[2].

During the revolutionary period, there were also concerns as to how the authorities reacted and this again suggested that there was likely to be a resulting period of discontent which would clear the way for a new improved approach to many fundamental areas, including human rights[3].

Although the likely reason for the Arab Spring can be attributed to general discontent with the role of local government, it is argued in the research that whenever there is a dramatic uprising of this nature opportunity is seen in the aftermath, when it comes to establishing a new improved approach to all aspects of government, from offering political stability, to ensuring that the regions provide greater security to the individuals within those regions. Human rights’ violation is merely one aspect of this research; however, the focus will be on this element, in order to ensure sufficient focus in this research.

Aims, Objectives and Rationale

The overall aim of this research is to monitor the way in which human rights have been dealt with in the Middle East, both prior to and after the Arab Spring, with a view to identifying a potential way forward, for the future. The question raised, here, is deemed to be particularly important in the current climate, as it will identify means whereby the actual uprisings of this nature are the catalyst for dramatic change, in terms of fundamental rights, such as human rights[4]. Having entered this period of change the aim of this research is to establish an appropriate framework that can be followed in the future development of Human Rights in the area.

Although the revolutionary period saw a dramatic and potentially inspiring display of action from the public, across the region, the magnitude of the challenges that are now being faced across the region is becoming clearer. The importance of this research, therefore, is to consider the impact that this period in history will have on the development of human rights in the region. Therefore, in order to achieve this objective, it will be necessary to look at human rights, prior to the uprising, as well as how they are now being dealt with, in the aftermath. The challenges, and crucially the way in which these challenges are being dealt with, will offer valuable information to any organisation looking to improve human rights in the region, especially when the region is undergoing a dramatic period of change. It is for this reason that the research is particularly appropriate, at this point in time, as information can be gathered from the experiences in the Middle East that may then be the applicable, elsewhere.

Planned Methodology

In order to undertake this research, it is proposed that the focus will be on an inductive style of research which will involve observing findings and activities across a broad range of organisations, some of which are within the governments of the various countries affected and others are third party non-governmental organisations which are focussed on improving human rights, in the area[5].

Due to the personal and sensitive nature of the research, it is anticipated that it will be difficult to obtain accurate primary research, in this area, as individuals may be reluctant to speak out about human rights’ violations, for fear of repercussions. Therefore, existing secondary case studies will be drawn upon, where appropriate, and with specific reference to individual examples of human rights’ violations and how these may now be treated differently, in the wake of these regional uprisings. It is anticipated that these will be obtained from agencies working in the area such as Oxfam or the Red Cross. On the whole, however, the main focus of the research is on the existing literature, in the area, as well as on reports about human rights’ violations which may be drawn upon, in order to identify changes as they are happening and also how this is likely to develop, in the long run.

Existing Literature

As noted in the proposed methodology, drawing on existing literature in the area, including government and non-government sources will form an important and central part of this research. The World Report 2013, written by the Human Rights Watch organisation, looked specifically at the uprisings in the Middle East and raised questions as to how this would potentially impact on human rights, within the region[6]. According to the report, it was recognised that the Arab Spring was hugely influential in the development of human rights, in the region; however, it was also stated that creating a democratic, self-respecting state was not something that would happen in a matter of a few months, despite the revolutionary nature of the changes.

It was noted in this report that a region which has previously been subject to a dictatorial regime, when left to behave independently, does not necessarily mean that there will be an automatic improvement in human rights; therefore, the difficulty for the path from the current situation to creating a democratic and fair society should not be underestimated[7].

Other research in this area has suggested that the dramatic events which took place in 2009 and 2011 actually arose over a prolonged period of time and did not suddenly arise from nowhere, as the media reports may have suggested, at the time. By looking at instances of human rights’ violations prior to the uprisings and the way in which various different third-party organisations were becoming increasingly involved in providing security within the region, it could be argued that the events which took place, in December 2010, were merely the final step towards liberalisation and were not actually as dramatic as originally suggested[8].

The issues that have arisen in the Middle East will be considered in the context of wider theoretical perspectives of human rights and how these rights emerge within modern society as well as how they should be protected. For example in the case of Marx it was argued that the only reason that human rights needed to be established at all was to support the capitalist developments and this reliance on natural rights should be viewed as paramount[9]. Other appropriate theories that will be drawn on in the wider discussion is that of the socialist concept which suggests that basic human rights area duty of society and basic levels should be established as a matter of political urgency[10].

When looking towards the future, there is considerable uncertainty from academics and practitioners as to how this revolutionary period is likely to play out, in the future and whether or not these dramatic changes in the region are going to create a suitable framework for the protection of human rights, or whether there is a danger that the situation will become worse, before it gets better. This presents the argument that whilst dictatorial rule can be damaging to human rights, creating such a high level of uncertainty within the region can also create similar problems[11].

Proposed Time Frame

It is anticipated that the research will take place over a period of three years, with the timeframe being necessary, in order to explore the potential changes and to observe how the region develops, in the coming months, which may be hugely influential to the ultimate findings of this research.

The main period of the research will be spent analysing the existing position, drawing on all current literature in this area, before identifying how the situation is now developing and whether or not the suggested theories associated with the development of human rights in the region are being experienced or not, in practice, as time goes on. Due to the transient nature of this research, it is anticipated that several aspects will need to be revisited, on an ongoing basis, and it is therefore a relatively time-consuming project, albeit crucially important, at this dynamic period of time.

Ethical Issues and Potential Problems

Dealing with issues such as human rights, particularly in a volatile political arena, has substantial ethical issues and care must be taken to ensure anonymity, particularly when collecting any primary research that may be available. Gathering data in this area is likely to be emotive and personal; therefore, ensuring sufficient balance of research will be a critical aspect of presenting the most balanced viewpoint possible, as regards to future options[12].

Indicative References

The references identified here are the starting point of the research and it is likely that this will be extended substantially, as the research is undertaken.

Arthur, Paige. 2009. How transitions Reshaped Human Rights: A Conceptual History of Transitional Justice. In Human Rights Quarterly, 31:2, May, pp. 321- 46.

Bentham, Jeremy 1987 “Anarchical Fallacies; being an examination of the Declaration of Rights issues during the French Revolution”, in Jeremy Waldron (ed.),Nonsense Upon Stilts: Bentham, Burke and Marx on the Rights of Man, New York: Methuen, p.69.

Berger, Lars. 2011. The Missing LinkUS Policy and the International dimensions of Failed Democratic Transitions in the Arab World. In Political Studies, 59:1, March, pp. 38-55

Bevernage, Berber. 2010. Writing the Past out of the Present: History and the Politics of time in Transitional Justice. In History Workshop Journal, 69, Spring.

Blackbum, Robin. 2011. Reclaiming Human Rights. In New Left Review, 69, May-June.

Dembour, Marie-Benedicte. 2010. What Are Human RightsFour Schools of Thought. In Human Rights Quarterly, 32:1, February, pp.1-20.

Fletcher, L., Weinstein, H. & Rowen, J. 2009. Context, Timing and the Dynamics of Transitional Justice: A Historical perspective. In Human Rights Quarterly, 31, pp. 163-220.

Human Rights Watch (2013) Annual Report 2013 Available at:

Husak, Douglas 1985 “The Motivation for Human Rights”, 11 Social Theory and Practice, 249-255

Langlois, Anthony J. 2003. Human Rights without DemocracyA Critique of the Separationist Thesis. In Human Rights Quarterly, Vol 25: 4, November.

MacQueen, Benjamin. 2009. Democracy Promotion and Arab Autocracies. In Global Change, Peace and Security, 21:2, June, pp. 165-178.

Meister, Robert. 2011. After Evil: A Politics of Human Rights. New York: Columbia University Press.