Arab countries: closed spaces and lost freedoms


21 – October – 2020

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The current Arab situation with freedoms is one of the worst in the world. This situation could last for some time, but its arrival in 2020 at an advanced stage could be the basis for an imminent struggle to open the spaces of Arab freedom. Intellectual and political repression cannot be sustained without threatening stability and deepening the rifts. Freedoms are a necessity for accountability and for dealing with different types of injustice, a struggling economy and widespread corruption that leads to dependence abroad. And freedoms are needed to ensure opportunities for stability, amendments and reforms.
The position of refusal of freedoms is expressed by the control of the elites who possess the means of power and authority, who believe in the ability to do everything and believe in their ownership of the state, society, people, individuals and the economy . This view of man knew history and was not merciful to her: the Shah of Iran is a model for what we mean, but Ceausescu in Czechoslovakia is another example. In such systems, sudden vibrations will occur. That is why the current Arab model will experience many sudden fluctuations.
An important aspect, therefore, of the current Arab weakness is linked to the negative position of freedoms, and therefore to the status of Arab intellectuals in their various countries. There is a group of Arab intellectuals who feel the responsibility to express their opinion even if it contradicts the prevailing opinion and the ruling authorities. These kinds of marginalized intellectuals and politicians find themselves in a disproportionate state of friction with those in power and influence who have narrow views on the state of freedoms, human beings and participation.
At the same time, we find that one of the positive cases that recently occurred was the acquittal by the Kuwait court, on 10/4/2020, of Dr. Abdullah Al-Nafisi, an Arab and Kuwaiti thinker, accused of insulting the United Arab Emirates. This sentence is hard to fall in our Arab world, which prompted Dr. Abdullah Al-Nafisi to praise the state of innocence and the Kuwaiti judiciary. On the other hand, the case against my recent book “The Nakba and the Emergence of the Palestinian Diaspora in Kuwait”, published by the Arab Center for Research in Beirut and Doha, reflects the same tendency of the Kuwaiti judiciary. With the preservation of the case in 2019 by the Kuwaiti Attorney General, Counselor Professor Dirar Al-Asousi, an explanation of up to 41 pages made it clear that the book is an academic work and adopts the scientific method, and that for this reason it is neither sued or prosecuted. This academic research freedom ruling is the first of its kind in Kuwait.
However, optimism at one point and one or more decisions does not negate the depth of the crisis of rights and freedoms in Arab countries … and this reflects the continuation of an ongoing battle over rights and freedoms. In many Arab countries, a university professor is not allowed to submit an article to a scientific or political academic conference outside his country, except after obtaining permission from the Ministry of Higher Education and the country’s highest authorities, and the question often reaches the intelligence department which makes the final decision on whether to go or not. Many countries check every article and opinion without appreciating their scientific or free meaning in that document.

In the absence of a model for open expression and guarantees for Arab human rights, the model of violence, exclusion and disappearance of prisoners and their liquidation in prisons is prevalent among many Arab regimes

On the other hand, what happened with the leader of the “Strong Egypt” party and former presidential candidate in Egypt, Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, after criticizing him in an interview while attending a conference, confirms what I aim for. . Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh was imprisoned in February 2018 upon his return to Cairo. If we read what he said: we will find that he was balanced in his speech and asked for open spaces and reconciliations. Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, the reformist, is still in prison despite his advanced age and deteriorating health. At the same time, thousands of prisoners suffer the same fate.
In the absence of a model of open expression and Arab guarantees of human rights, the model of violence, exclusion and disappearance of prisoners and their liquidation in prisons is prevalent among many Arab regimes. If we pulled through the Arab prisons, we would find that tens of thousands of commentators are serving sentences because of an opinion, an article or a political position, or even because of a book, a play, a poem and a song.
I am not sure that Arab regimes have a real interest in spreading the culture of violence and exclusion, as such restricted behavior will haunt them for years and decades to come and will be the cause of their crises and the end of their role. The methods of official violence, exclusion and uprooting have expanded due to the closing of the space for rights, freedoms and civil society and its independence.
The elimination of other opinion, popular opinion and enlightened critical opinion fights for loyalty, citizenship and national unity. Trying to liquidate the other opinion is a sign of helplessness and weakness in the Arab system, which at the same time blinds the decision maker who controls authority from truth, listening and humility, making him the victim of a small group of influential people. who speak in his name. In such societies, it would be natural for freedoms, rights and culture to migrate out of their homelands, as the opposition has migrated to other places where it has been given protection. But companies suffering from these problems are hard to witness long-term stability. The tremors will strike and come.
The question remains: when will spaces of free expression in the Arab world be a primary means of protecting society, the individual, the public, politicians and thinkers from the abuse of power?
So, should we wait for new revolutions similar to those that occurred in 2011, before the Arab regime awakens from its authoritarian slumber? Or will we live with a continuing nightmare of human rights and freedoms until homelands fall into the hands of outside forces, as has happened in Syria and elsewhere? The most important resistance in the Arab world is the nonviolent resistance which leads us towards freedom of expression and fundamental rights, resistance essential to build accountability, and then to move towards the trade of power in all meaning of quantity.

Political Science Professor at the University of Kuwait

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