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Arab Spring Gets Mixed Results in Advancing Human Rights

  • Nico Colombant

Protesters stand in front of riot police during a demonstration outside the parliamentary building in Tunis November 22, 2011.

Protesters stand in front of riot police during a demonstration outside the parliamentary building in Tunis November 22, 2011.

While the so-called Arab Spring, which continues to this day, has had mixed results in advancing human rights, activists around the world say they have been inspired by the movement to fight for change in their own countries. Some are taking notice as the world prepares to celebrate Human Rights Day on December 10.

Newly elected lawmakers in a post-dictatorial Tunisia, and voters in Egypt, finally taking part in free and fair elections, are some of the tangibles of the Arab Spring movement.

The protests started about a year ago and have rattled autocratic governments across the Middle East and North Africa.

Street clashes have continued, even in countries where long-standing rulers were toppled, such as Egypt. In Syria, there has been little change and lots of violence.

Other countries, such as Bahrain, have had repeated pro-democracy protests, followed by government promises but little action. Bahrain’s ruling monarchy recently said it would study new recommendations by a government panel to broaden free speech and freedom of assembly.

But a researcher with Amnesty International in Bahrain, Said Boumedouha, remains reticent to celebrate any human rights victory in his own country.

“There have been so many cases or instances where I mean, international organizations or local organizations have made recommendations, but they have not been implemented. And that is why people are skeptical about the whole thing about whether this government is going to implement those recommendations,” said Boumedouha.

More than 10,000 kilometers away in Washington, Jessica Mazour is taking part in her first protests. She is trying to bring together so-called Occupy protesters from across the United States to her state, Iowa, where in January, the nomination selection for 2012 U.S. presidential candidates will begin.

Mazour said protesters in the Middle East inspired her to be relentless in seeking changes from her own government.

“Every time they try to shut us up, we are just going to get louder, and if we get louder it is going to finally hit their minds that this is important to people,” she said.

The Occupy movement has no specific platform, but many protesters here in the United States say they want more employment opportunities, more equal distribution of income, as well as reducing the influence of wealth in politics, which are similar demands than in the Middle East.

Zaid Jelani has been closely following the uprisings around the world as an activist blogger for the Washington-based organization Think Progress.

“The best thing you can say about 2011 is that it has really been a global democratic uprising. It is a matter of people everywhere across the world saying that their leadership is not really working for them, their society is not working for them, that their lives are falling apart, because the economy is poor. People are saying that the way we get this done is by going out in the streets, by actually having an outpouring of grassroots democracy, of citizen action, civil and political disobedience and sort of using that and going beyond the ballot box to get those needs addressed,” said Jelani.

Protesters say even if outdoor camps are being shut down and they face repeated security crackdowns, their current social-media fueled struggle for enhancing human rights is long, and that it will extend beyond this year.