There remain “serious challenges” to the promotion of democracy and human rights in the Middle East, despite “some notable steps forward,” according to the U.S. State Department. Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, Jordan and Syria present particular cause for concern, notes the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor’s 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
- Egypt has seen a notable decline in respect for freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion, as highlighted by detentions and arrests of activist bloggers.
- Iran “intensified its systematic campaign of intimidation against reformers, academics, journalists, and dissidents”.
- Despite the improved security situation in Iraq, insurgent and extremist violence still undermine the rule of law. But the recent provincial elections and the establishment of a constitutionally mandated Independent High Commission for Human Rights are a sign of progress.
- In Jordan, a new law on associations threatens to stifle independent civil society groups. The measure – yet to be implemented – allows the authorities to deny registration of NGOs; dissolve associations; and intervene in NGOs’ management, membership, and activities.
- Syrian security services routinely disrupt meetings of human rights groups and detain regime critics without due process, including members of the national council of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic National Change (DDDNC), a reformist opposition coalition.
- In Tunisia, the government’s “systematic, severe repression of freedom of expression and association” continues.
The region’s human rights violations are demonstrably linked to its democratic deficit. Human rights are unlikely to improve or be respected on a sustainable basis without democratic reform, the DRL report suggests:
Countries in which human rights were most protected and respected were characterized by the following electoral, institutional, and societal elements:
Free and fair electoral processes that include not only a clean casting and honest counting of ballots on election day, but also a run-up to the voting that allows for real competition and full respect for the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association;
Representative, accountable, transparent, democratic institutions of government, including independent judiciaries, under the rule of law to ensure that leaders who win elections democratically also govern democratically, and are responsive to the will and needs of the people; and
Vibrant civil societies, including independent NGOs and free media