Consultation workshop #1: Online – December 3, 2023
Twelve participants attended the webinar, including human rights defenders and professionals, as well as scholars in fields of Democracy and Human Rights. Dialogue unfoleded into several levels, e.g. theoretical vs. practical; and effects vs. remedies, but there was a general agreement that we are facing a new scene at all levels, which calls for new work programs that require a great effort from the human rights community. The following themes can be extracted from the discussion:
First: Direct Effects of the War on Human Rights Scene
- There is already a global decline in programs supporting democracy and human rights before October 7. This is only likely to increase in the region as a result of putting human rights on the backburner to prioritize security and stability.
- Generally speaking, the war also led to an unprecedented rise in radical right-wing ideas and hostile and xenophobic rhetoric in the West.
Secondly: Effects on the Theoretical Level
- The greatest impact of the war is on the legitimacy and endorsement of norms of democracy and human rights in the region and the world as a whole. Therefore, a huge effort should be made at the theoretical and intellectual level to emphasize the universality of the values of democracy and human rights, even if Western governments do not adhere to them.
- It is not in our interest (as Arabs) to portray the issue as a cultural or civilizational war, or to abandon the human rights reference because we will be faced with a state of chaos.
- It is now necessary to reintroduce international legal principles related to the illegality of the Israeli occupation and settlement activity, as well as the right to resist occupation and the right to self-determination, which are foundations recognized in international law, but under Israeli pressure they fall on deaf ears in Western circles.
- To avoid the accusation of anti-semitism, we need to have in mind and count on ideas and arguments of anti-Zionist Jewish thinkers such as Ilan Pappé.
Thirdly: Effects on the Human Rights Communities of Practice
The attendees agreed on the need to review the theory of change adopted by Egyptian and Arab human rights organizations. The proposals varied to include:
- Expanding advocacy and lobbying activities beyond Egypt’s international partners from Western governments towards other sectors such as civil society, popular movements, and minority parties outside government alliances, in order to gain more allies.
- International law and international HR mechanisms – although they are highly questionable today – are spaces of freedom that exist to seek allies in our collective struggle for justice and should not be abandoned.
- We should distinguish between various actors and identify their internal diversities; not all of the West is one, for example. This distinction is a first step to understanding the disparities, and to begin building detailed maps of different actors’ postures. In the same context, attention should be paid to the roles of non-state actors that are playing a growing role in the current moment of international transformation.
- Adopting the concept of intersectionality and applying it practically to search for non-traditional allies outside official Western circles is imperative now. The potential list of allies includes CSOs and popular movements in the West, left-leaning student unions, non-Zionist Jews (Jews for Peace for example), LGBTQ communities, and environmental activists, as well as the global south and the Arab and Muslim communities across the globe.
- Investing in establishing and expanding pro-human rights local constituencies is a must to protect the movement from regime prosecution.
- In terms of funding and independence, complete reliance on foreign funding for the human rights community puts it in a real dilemma. Therefore, there is a need to work on diversifying sources of funding and considering alternative forms such as self-funding or local financing.
- It is now imperative to invest in the organizational build-up of Arab communities in influential Western capitals. This is to facilitate coordination and mobilization to enable a real impact on decision-makers.
In addition to the above, different participants have also raised some concerns that require the attention of the human rights movement, including:
- The need to prepare for a potential asylum situation in Sinai.
- The necessity of increasing the human rights community’s attention to the Egyptian handling of borders through extremist policies, such as complete closure and the displacement of hundreds of families from the border strip in Rafah, for example.
- There is a need to overcome the prevalent separation between dealing with immigration issues and other civil-political human rights, e.g. political detainees, because the violators are the same in both cases.
In conclusion, the attendees recommended the importance of continuing the dialogue and escalating it to the regional level, paving the way for its transfer to the international level. This is to convey a clear message to Western capitals that support Israel unequivocally about the repercussions of that on the collapse of their credibility in the Arab street, and the corollary potential harm to democratic values and human rights in general.