MENA » Overview

Following the so-called "Arab Spring" in 2011, Salzburg Global Seminar developed a series of meetings and program activities focused on Reform and Transformation in the Middle East and North Africa. The series provided a forum in which to explore systematically the key elements needed for building more open democratic societies in the region, notably by examining models that have been tried in other regions and countries where major political and social transformations have occurred within the last few decades, including central and eastern Europe, Indonesia, Latin America, South Africa, and Turkey.

Working in partnership with a number of institutions in the region, Salzburg Global facilitated an examination and comparative analysis of various reform models to help expand knowledge and understanding, among those seeking to bring about change in the MENA region; of how these models were implemented and what were the results - positive and negative, intended and unintended. What questions do those who worked for change in these other countries wish they had asked, what information do they wish they had drawn on, what might they caution reformers in the MENA region against doing or encourage them to consider doing? What was, or might have been, the role of a surrounding regional community, and of the international community? What technical support might policy-makers, civil society activists, philanthropists or academics receive from their counterparts in other countries?


Ann Elizabeth Mayer: "This is now a very legitimate exercise"
Ann Elizabeth Mayer: "This is now a very legitimate exercise"
Oscar Tollast 
Dr Ann Elizabeth Mayer, an associate professor of legal studies and business ethics, has highlighted the positive shift in attitudes towards human rights in the Middle East. The professor, who works at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, said that it was difficult to speak about human rights in the Middle East 30 years ago, but it has now become a “normal thing”. In our latest podcast, she discusses the challenges facing diversity and inclusion in the region, the opportunities presented when drafting new constitutions, and how a trip to Sudan changed her attitudes and work towards human rights. Dr Mayer also reveals what she plans to take away from the session to help further educate her students, including highlighting the direct experiences of the session’s participants. She spoke to Salzburg Global during the session on ‘Getting Transition Right: A Rights-based Approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity’, held in cooperation with the Arab Human Rights Fund. Dr Mayer spoke to participants on international human rights law in the context of the current transitions in the Middle East and North African region. Her research areas include Islamic law in contemporary Middle Eastern and North African countries and international human rights law, with an emphasis on women’s international human rights. The fifth edition of her book, Islam and Human Rights, was published in 2012. She has conducted research on legal developments in countries ranging from Morocco to Pakistan, recently publishing an article on the problems facing post-revolutionary Libya.
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Considering our "Fortunate Mess"
Considering our "Fortunate Mess"
Louise Hallman 
Whilst all four countries have gone through massive political transitions in the past two years, the situations in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen due have their own specificities. But the one striking similarity in all countries is the resounding pessimism. “The situation in Yemen is a mess... We don’t know if we should regret the actions of the Arab Spring,” stated one Fellow during presentations on the current state of affairs in each of the four focus countries for the 'Getting Transition Right: A Rights-Based Approach Towards Diversity and Inclusivity' program. Since the ousting of Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2012, fractious fighting has continued in Yemen. In the North sectarianism is taking hold, whilst in the South, a feeling of betrayal has led to increased separatist sentiment. The new establishment is now “sharing the sweets among themselves” making ordinary Yemenis question what—if any—real progress has been made. In Libya, the once united sectors of society have lost common purpose now that Gaddafi is gone. Despite successful elections, the GNC remains elusive, with the lack of constituency offices stopping citizens from accessing their elected representatives. “If you want something done, you’d better have a militia,” one Fellow remarked. Powerful militias are now essentially holding Libya to ransom. In Egypt, a culture of retribution has taken hold. A developing group mentality – both of the majority and minorities – has led to a dehumanization of marginalized sections of society, in turn leading to increased violence coupled with an avoidance of personal responsibility. Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring. It was the state of the economy and unemployment that led to Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation—yet economic issues abound still. Positives could be found in the fact that election processes have been established and human rights norms appear to be taking root, with the new governments at least paying lip-service even if their actions still leave a lot to be desired. And even if politicians are still behind the curve on human rights, an “opinion poll you didn’t expect to come out of Libya” indicated that staggeringly high proportions of respondents said they believed in such rights as women’s equality and freedom of the press. But as to just how much this poll reflects the whole population remains uncertain, much like the region’s future.
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Getting Transition Right: The Role of Law and Policy
Getting Transition Right: The Role of Law and Policy
Louise Hallman 
The Role of Law...

Friday’s discussions touched on the need for a culture of respect for human rights and of trust in the rule of law in order to protect and embrace diversity in the transitional MENA region. But the question today was: what law?

International human rights conventions have been signed in most states, but this doesn’t guarantee their implementation.

The newly drafted constitutions still show a preference for the implementation of Islamic Law, but how can this ensure diversity and inclusivity are embedded in society if Islamic Law is so often (rightly or wrongly) considered to be in conflict with human rights law?

“If Islamic law is to be used as a source of law, then it must be subject to demands of the revolution: bread, dignity, social justice for all,” insisted one Fellow.

Free and open public discourse surrounding the application of both Sharia and Fiqh must be allowed and encouraged if it is going to form the basis of governments’ interactions with their citizens.  Greater "intellectual bravery" is needed, stated another Fellow.

Regardless of whether a person is a Muslim or a non-Muslim subject to Islamic Law, everyone should realize that they have the agency to discuss the application of Islamic Law.

“If you can’t handle Islamic law to be debated, then take it out of the public sphere."

...And the Role of Policy

Policy formation involves much more than just passing laws, Fellows heard today.

Policy is the plan to achieve an end goal, be that greater freedom of speech, better public health, or ending female genital mutilation. This plan then uses all available tools; one of these tools is enacting legislation, but it is by no means the only one.

Given officials’ reluctance to truly engage with their citizens (see adjacent story on Libya), civil society have a great role to play in driving policies that address not just political and civil rights but also economic, social and cultural rights.

But capacity building is needed to help these burgeoning groups identify and utilize all available tools, from surveying public opinion, writing policy briefs and engaging with media as well as politicians.

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Amr Shalakany: "We still have time"
Amr Shalakany: "We still have time"
Oscar Tollast 
Dr Amr Shalakany, associate professor of law at the American University in Cairo (AUC), believes there is reason for new optimism in the Middle East and North Africa. The founding director of the L.L.M degree program attended Salzburg Global for its session, ‘Getting Transition Right: A rights-based approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity’. Whilst the view has been shared that the region has a long way ahead towards diversity and inclusivity, Dr Shalakany has been left feeling encouraged by discussions. “It’s very discouraging when you experience it on your own, in your own country, almost three years into the revolution that nothing has changed. “But in the larger group it was strangely encouraging, the sense that we still have time. “The group of people here is great and they’re all pretty young. So, the sense is of energy and dynamism that is yet to come.” Participants at the session have split up into country specific working groups. Dr Shalakany advised Fellows to stick to the main topic at hand. “The legal framework to allow inclusion and diversity is a legal framework that’s pretty wide. It’s not just about constitutional articles. “It’s also about less interesting or sexy fields of law, and questions of policy.” Dr Shalakany teaches comparative law, Islamic law, legal history, media, and art law. He previously served as Shimzu visiting professor at the London School of Economics, Agha Khan distinguished visiting professor of Islamic humanities at Brown University, and Jeremiah Smith junior visiting professor at Harvard Law School. During one of the sessions, a participant raised the argument whether a culture of respect for human rights should be prioritized ahead of rights implemented through law. Dr Shalakany said: “I would argue if we just have implementation and observation of the laws that we have on the books, then that’s a fair enough start for me. Then whether a culture grows out of it or not, that’s debatable. “That’s the only thing that one can socially engineer or have some way of accounting for is the enforcement of law.” In a presentation given on Saturday, Dr Shalakany spoke about how international human rights intersected with Sharia law and the relationship between them. He said: “The typical reaction is one of antagonism, one of tension, [and] one of conflict. “What you’d argue for under the rubric of international law would be argued against as un-Islamic. That’s the typical argument back and forth that would happen.” Dr Shalakany said he aimed to approach the subject matter in a different manner in order to provide new thinking. “The hope was to question the very meaning of Islamic law or Islam itself to begin with, and the environment today is very amenable to that. “Three years into the revolution we’ve had at least in Egypt a government that was Islamic and was very much disliked specifically because it put itself in a situation where it was claiming to be far more Islamic than the rest of the population.” Attending Salzburg Global for the first time, Dr Shalakany revealed he was stepping out of his usual comfort zone. “I typically go to academic conferences and am used to that format of presenting and discussing. “The idea of being out of Egypt with colleagues who are working as activists in various fields and [are] also from other Arab countries [such as] Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen is incredibly appealing.” Another point of discussion during the session revolved around the future significance of Sharia law, when held against international pieces of legislation. Dr Shalakany told Salzburg Global that he expects little to change in Egypt with that issue in mind. “I think the article that we’re going to have in the constitution is going to be the same article that we’ve had before for over 30 years. “The general principles of Sharia are the primary source of legislation, and then there’s a settled interpretation of that from the Supreme Constitutional Court and there’s no reason to think that they are going to change it.”
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Hauke Hartmann: "They are consciously shut out"
Hauke Hartmann: "They are consciously shut out"
Oscar Tollast 
Dr Hauke Hartmann, senior project manager at German think-tank Bertelsmann Stifung, has described Salzburg Global’s latest session as eye-opening. He returned to Schloss Leopoldskron for his second visit to speak as part of a seminar session entitled, ‘Getting Transition Right: A Rights-based Approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity’. The session, co-hosted with the Arab Human Rights Fund, focuses on four key countries in the midst of transitions that can pilot new approaches to diversity management: Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. Describing discussions that have taken place so far, Dr Hartmann said: “One very important eye opener for me was the sense of exclusion that civil society representatives felt when it came to established politics. “They are consciously shut out. That is a very difficult thing to keep up a certain enthusiasm and dedication to a reformist cause when you’re constantly overheard and consciously overheard.” Dr Hartmann said participants’ views underlined his work directing the ‘Shaping Change: Strategies of Development and Transformation’ project, and the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI). Every two years, the Bertelsmann Foundation publishes the BTI, which analyzes the democratization processes, the processes of social and economic change, and the quality of governance in 129 developing and transition countries. Reviewing the four key countries being analyzed in the session, he said: “Not surprisingly, after the Arab Spring, there is an increase in political participation possibilities in all of these countries. “Their elections, rights, freedom of expression, assembly, association rights – they all increased. The scores for all increased.” However, Dr Hartmann said this change wasn’t necessarily accompanied with increased civil rights, highlighting Libya and Yemen as examples. “In Libya, for example, you see infringements on civil rights to a magnitude that has not been there during autocratic rule. “You might assume that civil rights are in a better situation than [they were] under [Muammar] Gaddafi, but no they are not.” Dr Hartmann said conversations at the session reaffirmed how polarized societies in the region were, with governments using economic incentives to stay in power. “This is not surprising but again it is very telling how clearly this is seen by civil society representatives here and clearly identified as a point that needs to change before any meaningful dialogue on a national basis can actually take place.” Dr Hartmann spoke to participants on Sunday morning about the preconditions and frameworks that define the scope and limitations of diversity management and governance achievements in the four countries. Speaking to Salzburg Global beforehand, he described Egypt and Tunisia as “solid nation states”, whereas he considered Libya and Yemen “very fragile”. He said countries also differed in terms of their socioeconomic development and available resources. “Those are all structural hurdles there in terms of the state, in terms of socioeconomic development, and in terms of educational levels that have an effect on the quality of governance. “The governance focus needs to be on different aspects given the different situations that the countries are in.” Dr Hartmann pointed to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil as hugely successful examples of countries that have integrated different stakeholders in the political decision-making process. He recognized, however, that whilst one policy might be effective for one country it might not be suitable for another. “There are a lot of countries you could compare their situation with, but the situation is very different in each of these countries and requires different governance methods.” Dr Hartmann believes the socioeconomic side of the Arab uprisings was initially overlooked in the West, which has since caused an estrangement of the rural young population. “When we are talking about empowering people, it has to start with a socioeconomic side. “There have to be targeted social measures and unfortunately this is something that is not taking place – definitely not in Libya, definitely not in Egypt, and in Yemen there has been hardly any change to the system at all.” Whilst Dr Hartmann admits some advances have been made in Tunisia, he doesn’t believe the changes have gone far enough. He called for consensus to be built in the four countries where development goals could be set and met for the purpose of transformation. This is an “advanced stage” yet to be seen, according to Dr Hartmann. “What we discovered in the BIT – and what is undermined in the discussions here – is that it is a win or lose, black or white situation. If you’re in government, you’re pushing your agenda through no matter what, and the opposition is being kept out of consultation, [and] so the society is kept out of consultation. “It makes it very hard to develop any kind of consensus building or compromise culture that could then potentially lead to the formulation of common transformation goals.” Dr Hartmann previously attended Salzburg Global Seminar in 1996 for a session entitled, ‘Human Rights: An International Legal Perspective.’ A fellow at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, he takes particular interest in governance in Arab and Latin American countries. “There is a kind of nascent cooperation that we’re having with Salzburg Global Seminar and [we’re] providing some additional input for the seminars that are running here. “My role is to bring some expertise that we’ve collected using the Bertelsmann Transformation Index.” He told Salzburg Global that before the session ends on 6 November, he’d like to get a better understanding of what governance qualities are required by civil societies of the four countries being discussed. “We have a large array of indicators that we are looking at, but that was out of focus on these four countries. “I would like to get more specific questions directed back to the work that we’re doing, in order to know more precisely what we can do as further research to support the process that has been initiated here.”
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Regaining Optimism
Regaining Optimism
Louise Hallman 
“Anyone who works in human rights is, by definition, optimistic,” said Fateh Azzam, chair of the Arab Human Rights Fund at the opening session of the Salzburg Global Seminar program ‘Getting Transition Right: A Rights-Based Approach to Diversity and Inclusivity’. But, admitted Azzam, who was speaking alongside Ghanim al Najjar, professor of political science at Kuwait University, these are pessimistic times in the Middle East and North Africa region. Since the heady days of 2011, which saw several decades-old dictatorships across the region toppled in mere months of each other as whole swathes of society – men and women, old and young, Christian and Muslim – took to the streets to demand greater human rights and social equity, the early optimism has faded. In all four of the focus countries for the five-day program – Egypt, Libya, Yemen and even Tunisia – progress has stalled or in some cases rolled back. As one Fellow said: “Death has become the new normal.” So far violence has been the most evident driver of change in the region, but engaging civil society is key to getting this democratic progress back on track. Most of the participants in Salzburg this week come from newly established, post-revolution civil society groups. These civil society groups now have a great role to play in delivering fairer, more inclusive change, embracing of all the diverse peoples and communities that exist across the MENA region. Diversity has always existed in the Middle East; despite the earlier prevalence of Arab nationalism, the region has never been homogenous. These diverse voices jointly clambered for change in the region, but they are not all currently engaged in the process. As the Fellows’ group discussions widely agreed, diversity and inclusion is a good thing—yet diverse voices, primarily women and minorities, are not being included in the broader discourse. To instil diversity and inclusivity in these nascent democracies two things must be established: a culture of respect for human rights and trust in the rule of law. But which must come first? Can one lead to another? How long will it take to establish in countries that appear to be so far behind in adopting international norms? Many of these diverse sectors of society are primarily interested in their own preservation over human rights for all. But unexpected alliances have emerged. Negative feelings towards Islamists in the wake of the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have led to greater public condemnation of attacks on Copts, for example. But how can these alliances be sustained, even as situations change? How can we to map these actors and their alliances? Do we need to address a “hierarchy of rights”? How can we even talk about minority rights when the right to life for all is not guaranteed in such violent societies? These questions and many more await the 45 Fellows’ consideration over the next four days.
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Fateh Azzam: "There are a lot of challenges to progress"
Fateh Azzam: "There are a lot of challenges to progress"
Oscar Tollast 
The Board Chair of the Arab Human Rights Fund has suggested the biggest priority in the Middle East and North Africa region is to create a shared common vision. Fateh Azzam spoke at Salzburg Global as part of a seminar session entitled, ‘Getting Transition Right: A Rights-based Approach towards Diversity & Inclusivity’. The session, which started on Friday, is being hosted by Salzburg Global and the Arab Human Rights Fund and will focus in particular on four key countries in the midst of transitions that can pilot new approaches to diversity management: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. Mr Azzam, who helped establish the Fund, has served on the boards of several Palestinian, Arab and international human rights organizations. Prior to this, he served as regional representative for the Middle East for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2006 until 2012. In a Q&A with Salzburg Global, he revealed the biggest challenges facing diversity and inclusivity in the region, what issues need to be prioritized and what role policy has to play. What’s brought you to Salzburg Global this weekend? We’ve co-organized with the Salzburg Global Seminar this discussion on diversity and inclusion in the Middle East and North Africa region. Why did you decide to partner with Salzburg Global? It came up by chance in a discussion between one of our staff members and people at Salzburg and it just seemed like a very good idea. We in the Arab Human Rights Fund are moving more – besides doing philanthropy [and] grant-making in the human rights arena – we are also moving more towards creating a forum and developing the think-tank expertise to help people around the region think in human rights terms, to consider some of the human rights issues and the best ways to move around. It just seems that the partnership for this particular topic, given what’s going on in the region, was a very important idea at this time. What are the discussions centered on this weekend? They’ll be centered on identifying what the issues are in terms of inclusion and exclusion, and in terms of diversity. Not so much diversity management, but the relationship between how we encourage more inclusion and how we promote inclusion in the context of human rights. How can human rights and diversity interact? That was raised actually in the first session. Is it a matter of creating a culture of diversity where human rights can be protected and guaranteed and respected, or is it an insistence on respect and the guarantee of human rights that can lead to more inclusive societies and societies that are at more acceptance of diversity when you protect inclusion by the rule of law and by guaranteeing human rights? Whilst these discussions take place, what do you feel are the biggest priorities? I think the biggest priority right now is to try and create – not consensus – but at least some common ground, some common vision in the region. There are so many things changing right now in the transitions after the revolts of the last couple of years. People are so focused on the problems and on the reasons why we need a change but there’s not enough discussion on what kind of vision for the future do we have and do we want. For us of course, as a human rights actor – the Arab Human Rights Fund – it is a human rights vision. It’s a vision of inclusion. It’s a vision of the rule of law based on respect for human rights. How can we get people in the region to think in those directions so that the promise of the revolution can become real and not drowned in the differences, problems and issues, and the historic exclusions that have created the revolts in the first place? What motivated you to get into this line of work? I’ve been in this line of work for 30 years. A well-known American politician – I think it was Kennedy – said one time, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’ So if you don’t like the way a situation is, then you have a responsibility to do something to change it. Even if your role can be tiny and miniscule, it is a role and you have something to say, so you might as well jump in and try and do it. You find people that you can do it with, you find colleagues, [and] you find people of like mind that you can work with to make it happen. That’s what I’ve been doing for most of my life. That’s what a lot of the people here are doing. It’s a commitment to taking on a personal responsibility to be part of the change. What do you feel are the biggest challenges to progress being made? I feel there are a lot of challenges to progress. One [of them] is interference. There is a lot of interference. There’s a lot of regional interference, a lot of international interference. Everyone wants to play in our yard, and everybody has something to say and finds people they want to support. Another big, big problem is that there are a lot of vested interests: people that have power and don’t want to give up that power. These people are allied to many of the people who are interfering from the outside as well so that the voice of the people gets lost. The voices get lost, and that’s one of the most important things from a conversation about inclusion: how do we make sure peoples’ voices are heard again? I think that’s what we have to be looking for. That’s a big challenge. How do you get people who have too much power to give up some of that power and allow others in? What role does policy have to play in terms of diversity and inclusion? We have to define policy first. Policy is not politics. Policy is having a direction, having a set of principles to guide what your politics should do. You have to have an idea that can then be translated into a policy that says, ‘I want to go in that direction.’ For example, if you don’t have an educational policy, then anybody can educate anyone they want and you can actually end up in a situation where differences are deepened and exclusion gets even worse. Whereas if you have a policy on education that says education has to be inclusive, education has to be broad, education has to start at this level and go to that level, and has to incorporate human rights ideas in the education, then that policy can move us towards where we want to go. What are you hoping to get out of this session? First of all, the dialogue itself is crucially valuable on its own. Even if nothing else comes out, it’s the fact that people have come together and will go back to their countries and take some of the different ideas that were shared. That’s a very important outcome. But then if we can manage to also get a set of recommendations for later to follow up in terms of developing policy ideas or policy directions in that specific national context - but also for the region as a whole - for each of the participants to take back and maybe try and build coalitions and move in that direction, then we would have had a very good impact from the meeting. Of course, for the Arab Human Rights Fund, having tried to play this role as convener, [we are hoping] to be able to come back and get some interesting new ideas or clear ideas about not only our funding but where are program can go to help move this agenda of inclusivity and diversity forward.
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VIDEOS

Libya, NATO and the Arab Spring
Perspectives from Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi

Perspectives on the Arab Spring protests
Maja Daruwala; Executive Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, India on the significance of the Arab Spring in Asia.


Perspectives on the Arab Spring protests
Saad Eddin Ibrahim on, founder Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies & Trustee, Arab Democracy Foundation.