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The external relations of the Arab human rights movement.

In the 1970s the first arab non-governmental organizations (ANGOHRs), active in the field of the defense and promotion of human rights, were created. In 1983, the establishment of the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) was a watershed and became a driving force that encouraged a number of citizens, from different Arab countries, to engage in committed action in the field of human rights. Thus, human rights organizations were established in a number of countries and, since the late 1980s, an Arab human rights movement was certainly in existence. Parallel to this process, cut off from the rest of the Arab World, human rights activism developed in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Eventually, Palestinian human rights groups joined other ANGOHRs and became integrated into the Arab human rights movement.

The fact that there was an Arab human rights movement did not mean that it had the means to subsist. In fact, the movement could be said to have been a weak, physically handicapped infant at birth. This weakness, especially during the initial part of the Arab Human Rights movement, had two major sources: 1) overall lack of solid relationship with the state, 2) conservative and protectionist position of leaders toward international connections.

The first source of weakness varied for each ANGOHR in gaining legal legitimacy and public support. Some ANGOHRs which failed to obtain legal recognition as civil society associations from public authorities, were relegated to the status of de facto organizations, thus their existence was left tenuous. Another category of ANGOHRs were able to acquire legal status as NGOs but were still subject to the whim of local authorities and were undermined by hostile attitudes of some officials toward them.

The lack of popular and financial support, as well as lack of trained human resources, further constrained the ability of emerging ANGOHRs to carry out their functions, and realize the objectives which they set for themselves. Since public authorities denied them due recognition, the general society was unable to provide them with necessary financial resources. Moreover, most of the citizens interested in the defense and promotion of human rights did not have the financial means that would allow them to support ANGOHRs. Additionally, the hostile attitude adopted by public authorities with respect to these organizations deterred interested and financially capable citizens from providing badly needed support. Besides, past or present authoritarian regimes had done away with whatever practices of participation in public life that had previously existed. As a result, training for effective, professional undertaking of Human Rights functions was lacking for these emerging ANGOHRs.

In the process of establishing their organizations, the founding members of ANGOHRs were aware that the international institutional system of human rights was accessible to them. Therefore, it was only legitimate for them to join the network of institutions which, by different means, supervise, monitor and promote the norms and values of Human Rights. This article considers that in the 1970s and 1980s, state relations and internal difficulties directly lead to the ANGOHRs' integration into the international system of human rights. The less internal strength and support these emerging NGOs had, the greater was their degree of integration with the international Human Rights structure.

Finally, differential integration into the international system by various emerging ANGOHRs was influenced by the ideological backgrounds and cohort experiences of the leaders of the movement. Arab Nationalists and Islamists, who had been active in Arab governmental politics in the 1960s, were often reluctant to engage in a comprehensive manner with international Human Rights bodies. In contrast, younger founders and activists who had leftist backgrounds, especially with liberal values, were more disposed to greater integration in the international system. To clarify, in the early 1990s, Human Rights activists, in their twenties, thirties, or forties, were seen to be more open to the idea of full participation in the international Human Rights system than their colleagues in their sixties or seventies. In sum, a leader who is aged 25 to 50 and holds liberal ideas will be the most open to the idea of strengthening and broadening international connections and integration.

This essay intends to test the propositions mentioned above. First, it will examine the international institutional system of human rights and the legitimacy of ANGOHRs joining it. Second, it will examine the reasons for the differential integration into the international Human Rights system. Finally, the article will briefly review and assess the activities of the ANGOHRs in question. It is argued that the main benefits for those ANGOHRs who have integrated into the international system has been the furtherance through both horizontal expansion or vertical deepening of human rights work in Arab countries.

To explore these propositions, we will focus particularly on three ANGOHRs; the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR), the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). It will also refer to the Palestinian human rights organization al-Haq. It will occasionally provide contrast to these examples by noting cases of ANGOHRs who have been legally recognized and have successfully maintaining positive relations with authorities in their countries.


The question of the legitimacy of joining the international institutional system of human rights has been repeatedly raised in different Arab countries. The greater the integration into the international system of the concerned ANGOHR, the more intense was the questioning. This questioning sometimes reached outright public denunciation and accusations of betrayal. This article will therefore begin this discussion by exploring how an international institutional system of human rights came into being, in order to later examine the benefits of joining it.

In recognition that the state is often the perpetrator or silent partner in any infringement on Human Rights, the need for NGOs to protect individual and group rights on an international level historically came to be recognized as being extremely important. Although many states recognize the importance of such a protective function, each state is also jealous of its sovereignty prerogatives. Therefore, guarantees of rights have traditionally been almost solely a subject of domestic jurisdiction. Any effective international means for the implementation of Human Rights monitoring is revolutionary and inherently threatening. The Charter of the United Nations has marked, as an area appropriate for international concern, the beginning of this revolutionary expansion of human rights to the global level.(1)

Implicit in the historical origins of the Charter is the belief that human rights are rights which every person should have by virtue of his or her humanity.(2) Today, there are numerous institutions concerned with the promotion and protection of human rights. These institutions are based on clear conceptualizations of ideal normative and procedural expectations for states concerning the treatment of all individuals and groups regardless of nationality. From such expectations, it may also be said that there has come into being a world society which includes in its membership individuals, NGOs, and states. As a result of this emerging world society, old principles of 'international society', like sovereignty and non-intervention, are no longer clear-cut.(3) Thus, the Charter may be considered revolutionary because it was at the origin of the establishment of a new paradigm of world society.

On the road from the former 'international society' (pre-Charter) to 'world society', several indicators of the extent to which human rights have become entrenched may be identified. First is the support given by states to the various conventions. A second indicator is the extent to which individuals have been able to make headway with complaints against the states who are UN members. (The basis for these cases lies in the United Nations Commission of Human Rights Resolution 1503 Procedure, which asserts that communications from individuals reporting any consistent pattern of violations can be acted upon,(4) as well as the individual complaint mechanism regulated by the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

The most reliable indicator of an emerging world society is the degree of development of Human Rights focussed non-governmental organizations. It is ideally in the NGO domain that individuals and groups are able to approach the question of the rights of their fellow human beings unencumbered by a duty to protect this or that political or economic interest. The underlying idea is that an offence to the rights of anyone anywhere is ultimately an offence to humanity. Non-governmental organizations acting on this principle might therefore be interpreted as both expressing the existence of world society and visibly buttressing it.(5)

Johan Galtung has elaborated on this perspective. He sees modern society as having three components: state, capital, and people (the last organized in associations that add up to civil society). At the international level, these three components are reproduced as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), (in a hierarchy with the UN at the top); as transnational corporations (TNCs), (in an informal hierarchy according to assets); and as international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), (in an informal hierarchy according to size of membership, like states). The people's organizations (PO's) which Galtung includes in the third level are here replaced by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), from particular countries, interacting with external actors. By combining the last two levels (NGOs and PO's) we come to the categories of 1) the state system, 2) the corporate system, and 3) the civil society system.

Interest in this article lies with the first and third systems. The state is considered as a potential perpetrator and reinforcer of violations of human rights. Of course, it can also be a victim of external aggression or of internal warfare; but the former is the province of public international law, and the latter is usually seen as "politics", meaning governed by other types of rules.

Civil society enters the stage in a double role: as victim and as perpetrator. (Obviously, individuals within civil society, can also be perpetrators, but this falls under criminal law unless directed against the state, in which case it would be "politics"). The state may be paralyzed by the conflict of interest between the temptation to break human rights and the obligation to reinforce them, but civil society experiences no such conflict of interest. To be a victim of human rights violations and to want human rights implemented are not contradictory positions. From this difference of position flows civil society's enthusiasm for and the state's ambivalence toward Human Rights.

The conclusion is obvious: Without civil society, human rights would be nonexistent in many if not all countries. Geltung raises the fundamental question of whether these organizations are equipped to carry out their functions. The weakness in the NGOs of Arab civil society is what drives these organizations into the international system. However, they do not all integrate into the international system to the same degree. The determinants of these differential levels of integration is the subject of the next section.


The various attitudes adopted by governments toward ANGOHRs greatly determine the degree of integration of these organizations in the international institutional system of human rights. An organization legally recognized by the government of the country in which it is active will be less oriented toward the international system than an organization which is not. ANGOHRs operating within states that are benign toward them may receive some government funding or at least will be able to seek financial contributions from individuals who will not be deterred by the fear of the consequences of giving. However, the great majority of ANGOHRs do not enjoy legal recognition and/or are perceived with hostility by governments. Therefore, they seek, to a greater or lesser extent, integration and protection from the international system. The degree of legal recognition of an ANGOHR will determine the effectiveness of its action and, hence of its credibility. Moreover, when ANGOHRs are well supported by the state, the international Human Rights system may be reluctant to integrate or to maintain meaningful relations with them.

Example One: The Egyptian Society of Human Rights Supporters

The Egyptian Society of Human Rights Supporters (SHRS)(6) proves the validity of this proposition. Established in the late 1970s under Law No. 32 of 1964 regarding private associations, the SHRS has enjoyed a peaceful life. It has not, at any time, incurred the wrath of the government. Its participation in the international system, if at all, is very limited. Although it was a member of the network of the International Federation of Human Rights (IFHR), it was excluded in 1995 on the grounds that it did not actively defend and promote human rights.

Example Two: The Arab Organization for Human Rights

Once established, the AOHR was refused a legal status in the Egyptian capital, where it chose to have its headquarters. Founders of the AOHR could not hold the constitutive meeting of their organization in any Arab country. When in 1986 it submitted an application to be granted a consultative status (Category II) with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it was met with great hostility on the part of many Arab governments. Spokespersons for Algeria, Iraq, Oman and Syria did not spare the organization all sorts of accusations and insults. The French delegate expressed the view that he could not believe that a human rights organization including in its membership jurists, academics, journalists . . . could harbor such dishonest intentions as were mentioned by Arab delegates. Sweden supported a Soviet suggestion to grant the AOHR consultative status (category III)(7) (1987, p. 1).

The AOHR eventually acquired consultative status with ECOSOC in 1987. However, the refusal of the Egyptian government to recognize it, an attitude resulting in part from the hostility of Arab governments toward the AOHR, has led to the withdrawal by the AOHR of an application to obtain a similar status with the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO). In fact, the latter's Constitution provides that for an organization to acquire consultative status, it has to be legally constituted. AOHR has also gained consultative status with the African Committee of Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR).

Through its consultative status with ECOSOC and ACHPR, its resulting interactions with the UN Centre for Human Rights, and its working relationships with such INGOs as Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the AOHR is ensured protection against arbitrariness on the part of Arab governments. To date, unfriendly attitudes on the part of governments cannot be considered to have greatly affected its financial position. Its statute forbids it to receive assistance from governments; and it has benefitted from generous financial support from Arab individuals (AOHR, 1990).

Example Three: The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

The EOHR is another case of an ANGOHR refused legal recognition by the state. Established in 1985, it applied for registration under the above-mentioned Law No. 32 of 1964. Not surprisingly, the application was rejected on the grounds that there exists another organization, i.e. the Egyptian Society for Human Rights (ESHR), (essentially non-existent), which was pursuing the same objectives since its establishment in 1975. Article 12 of Law No. 32 provides that the relevant administrative body, after consulting with the concerned union of societies, may refuse to declare the constitution of a society either because the community does not need its activities or because of the existence of other societies satisfying the same needs (Council of State, 1987).

The decision to refuse registry, made by an organ of the Ministry of Social Affairs, was based on the advice from the Regional Union of Societies which had counseled to postpone the approval of registry for the EOHR for several reasons. One reason was that the aim of the EOHR was to engage in political activities, which runs counter to provisions of Law No. 32. The Minister of Social Affairs asserted that approval of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and of Interior should first be sought (Council of State, 1987).

The biggest barrier to legal recognition for the EOHR was Law No. 32 which gives the Ministry and the Minister of social Affairs extensive powers to control and regulate NGO activities. These powers include the ability to approve or refuse registry of an NGO, control its activities and meetings, oversee its finances, merge it with another NGO, appoint up to half the members of its board, dissolve it for a great number of vaguely formulated reasons.(8) The law cannot be expected to tolerate autonomous human rights organizations, because it seeks to integrate 'interest groups' into the state apparatus.

In contrast to the AOHR, the EOHR could not aspire to acquire a consultative status with an international organ such as ECOSOC, since ECOSOC requires that the applying organization undertake its activities in several member countries. Moreover, protection secured by relations with Amnesty International or with the ICJ could not be completely relied upon because the formation of an Egyptian section of Amnesty International had been refused by the government. The EOHR could not count on generous financial support from individuals either, and assistance provided by the AOHR was discontinued. Therefore, the EOHR was faced with the choice of either closing its doors or exploring links with other international bodies. In 1991 it chose the latter.

From these examples it appears that incorporation into the international realm is generally seen as a compromise to be made only if no other viable alternatives exist. Another way of getting around the dilemma of becoming integrated with and dependent upon international bodies or struggling with state structures and stipulations, is for ANGOHRs to register as civil firms, as many research centers have already done. The CIHRS, established in 1993 is an example of an ANGOHR that took this route.

Similarly, due to extreme government opposition, al-Haq, established in 1979 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, chose to register itself as a firm under Jordanian law. It then received its funding almost exclusively from Western Foundation grants, with additional donations coming from associate membership and individuals (Rabbani, 1994, p.28).(9) Even if, hypothetically, financial support could have been secured from Palestinian private sources, the commitment of Western institutions ensured protection from arbitrary closure. In reality though, al-Haq had little choice about its amount of support from the state it was working in, as occupation and Israeli settlement policy are a clear refusal to recognize a distinctive identity for the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.


Conceptualizations of Civil Society

The different ideological backgrounds of founders, leaders and activists of ANGOHRs determine their orientation toward the international Human Rights system. Differing attitudes also depend on the extent to which the needs and expectations of ANGOHRs were satisfied by the international Human Rights system, and whether norms and rules of the system were aligned with their ideals. Most important, for purposes of analyzing ANGOHRs' differing attitudes toward external actors, are their founders' and leaders' evaluation and understanding of civil societies. If founders or leaders of an ANGOHR have a pluralist view of civil society (as in the West) and if their objective is a pluralist civil society in their country, they will be the most open toward the idea of maintaining all sorts of links, including financial, with external actors. Liberal ideas of a pluralist civil society tend to be held by persons disposed toward the greatest interactions possible with the international system in order to advance their interests. Persons having a Hegelian view of civil society, as integrated with the state in the West, do not seek the emancipation of their own civil society from their state. These people tend to be the most suspicious of external links, and even of human rights discourse. Some founders and leaders of ANGOHRs come close to such Hegelian ideas while not disowning the human rights discourse. These people tend to have good political relations with the state to which they anchor their organizations and their lack of credibility undermines whatever external relations they may have. The Egyptian SHRS is a good case example of such leaders and their position of political cohesion with the state, which places them outside of the scope of this article. On the continuum extending from outright refusal to integration in the international system, analysis here will therefore start with leaders and founders of ANGOHRs who adopt a human rights discourse and perceive civil society as not totally integrated in the state.

Mustapha K. Al-Sayyid(10) has brought out the different conceptions of civil society found in the Arab World. A review of the findings of his research will prove beneficial. He starts out by elaborating on the position taken by those opposed to civil society. Some intellectuals:

. . . express the conviction that what Arab countries needed for the time being was to strengthen the Arab state, which at this stage was incapable of carrying out its developmental task and was subject to penetration by foreign powers. A strong society, in their view, would first require a strong state. Arab historical experience suggested, according to them, that it was usually the state, under Muhammad 'Ali in Egypt, for example, that initiated and carried out social reform. The discourse on civil society at present would only serve to undermine a weakened Arab state. It accords very well with the interests of foreign powers, but not those of Arab peoples. This statist position was advocated particularly by certain Nasserite intellectuals, but might not reflect the point of view of all Arab nationalists.(11)

Proponents of this approach seem to overlook that civil society was at the origin of the declaration of Muhammad 'Ali as Wali of Egypt, and therefore exclude themselves from the human rights movement, indeed from all promotion of civil society.

Some Islamist intellectuals reject the term mujtama' madani, the usual Arabic translation of "civil society," which "smacks in their view of its Western origins, which stresses membership in a particular community qualified as civil as distinct from any other community, particularly one based on religion. These intellectuals prefer, therefore, another term that could reflect particular features of Arab culture."(12) This focus on the terminology used to discuss 'civil society' reflects a rejection of some elements of the civil society concept, in particular its component of secularism, but implicitly admits, at least a degree of differentiation between civil society and state.

Al-Sayyid rightly considers that this Islamist stance is similar to:

. . . that of some liberal nationalists who have called for maintaining the concept of civil society while adapting it to reflect specific conditions of Arab culture. . . . Advocates of this view came closest to identifying civil society institutions with all those economic, cultural, or religious institutions that are not subject to a single uniform regime imposed by public authorities and that act under conditions allowing them to expand, renovate, compete with each other, and innovate in their activities.(13)

These are proponents of a distinctive essence of Arab society and culture that should always be jealously preserved in all interactions with the international system. They recognize civil society and state as distinct constructions. Therefore, under this analysis, autonomous civil society organizations are called for; however they should be protected and monitored by the state.

Finally, al-Sayyid considers that:

. . . a minority of Arab intellectuals found that the analytical power of the concept of civil society would be diluted if it were to be given a different meaning in the Arab. concept. The analytical power of the concept resides, in their view, in its distinction between a civil society and all other types of society that are judged to be uncivil. . . . However, those who adopt this view disagree on the particular variant of the European definition of civil society that should serve as the point of reference. The Ibn Khaldoun Center opts for a Lockean approach, while publications of the Arab Research Center in Cairo favor a Marxian approach.(14)

Their conceptions of civil society may vary, but such intellectuals clearly recognize the distinction of external civil societies and the state, and aim at distinguishing their own civil societies from their states. With regard to conceptualizing civil society, Al-Sayyid attempts to make a synthesis of the Lockean and Marxian discourses. For our purposes, we may emphasize two from the six propositions he advances: 1) in a civil society, the state abides by certain rules in dealing with societal actors, recognizing in particular their autonomy; 2) state and society accept and protect the exercise of the right to dissent by citizens, including expressing views at variance with those of the majority, providing that dissenting minorities do not use force in persuading others to adopt their views.(15) Obviously, according to such conceptualizations, Liberals and Marxist in the 1990s share much in common. The latter, having abandoned their objective of placing the state at the service of part of civil society, have come close to the former. Therefore the gap between the normative aspects of their conceptions has been narrowed. Some Marxists have implicitly accepted tenets of the Liberal theory. Others have explicitly adopted them. Therefore, the openness of human rights leaders with this ideological orientation toward the international system should not be surprising.

In order to understand the positions taken toward the international system, it is imperative that we understand the life experiences, ideological contexts, and historical contexts surrounding the birth of ANGOHRs. The analysis of these factors lead us to suggest that depending on whether the 'heavy hand' of the state or international system was most prominent in the experiences of these leaders, determines whether the leaders embrace or reject integration into the international system. Where strong nationalist and isolationist sentiments occur, it is important to understand the context from which these sentiments arise.

Cohort Experiences

Cohort experiences greatly influence the ideology of ANGOHR leaders. Most individuals born in the 1920s and early 1930s will be reluctant to fully integrate into the international system. Many grew up feeling the frustration of the colonization of their countries. Later, they may have participated in the ideals and dreams of Arab nationalism. When their dreams were shattered by external actors, the international system failed to effectively come to their defense and was even perceived to have acted aggressively toward their countries. Therefore, it is understandable why these initial leaders were ambivalent about joining a system which they had experienced as unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. Another group of ANGOHR founders were nationalists engaged in the human rights movement who had adopted some liberal ideas, and therefore could be called liberal nationalists for they accepted some degree of interaction with the international system. For the minority of Liberals in this age group, nationalist ideology prevailed over ideals of international integration.

Overall, individuals born in the period from the late 1940s to the late 1960s tend to be open minded about participation in the international system even if they come from a nationalist background. They may have spent their lives in opposition to the state, and suffered from its heavy hand. If they come from a Liberal, or have moved from a Marxian to a more Liberal orientation, they will be the most eager to fully integrate in the international system.

An analysis of the membership of the Boards of Trustees and founders of the three ANGOHRs will be useful in exploring the link between these organizations and their political ideologies. It must be noted that identifying ideological affiliations is certainly not easy. Neither is estimating ages. However, the purpose of the exercise is simply to develop characteristics of the memberships of these organizations.

Example one: The Arab Organization for Human Rights

Successive Boards of Trustees of the AOHR have had a clear, but declining, Nationalist orientation. The first Board included 14 Nationalists, two Islamists, three Marxists and two Arab-oriented members.(16) They accounted respectively for 63.6 percent, 9.0 percent, 13.6 percent and 9.0 percent of total membership. The Board in charge of the organization in 1991 included 13 Nationalists, one Islamist, three Marxists, two Arab-oriented members and four Liberals accounting for 56.5 percent, 4.3 percent, 13 percent, 8.7 percent and 17.4 percent of total membership. The Board running the organization in 1995 included nine Nationalists, one Islamist, one Conservative,(17) six Marxists, two Arab-oriented members and six Liberals accounting for 36 percent, 4 percent, 4 percent, 24 percent, 8 percent and 24 percent of the membership.

Although the board members' average age slightly decreased from 61.6 to 59.6 and finally to 59.2 years; it is still quite high. Due to cohort and age factors of board members, and since the organization counts on generous public donations, it should not be surprising that the Board has maintained a policy of selective relations with external institutions.

It could be said that the clearly declining Nationalist component of the Board of Trustees may be at the origin of the tolerance of the external funding of activities of the Arab Institute of Human Rights (AIHR), shown by the AOHR. The AOHR focuses its external relations on the United Nations where its consultative status with ECOSOC has served it well. This was clearly seen during the 1993 UN World Conference on Human Rights. Other external partners of the AOHR are such organizations as the Organization of African Unity, Amnesty International, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the ICJ. These organizations are active in rule-supervising, and in monitoring and reporting on violations of human rights. They do not provide funding for field activities or for institution-building although they may occasionally train AOHR personnel. In the field of training, the organization maintains regular relations with the Strasbourg International Institute for Human Rights.

Example Two: The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights

The 1985 Executive Council of the EOHR was made up of ten members: 2 Nationalists, 3 Marxists having moved toward Liberal positions and 4 Liberals. The members' average age, 62.5 years, was quite high. The Executive Secretariat which drew up the EOHRs extensive program of action had seven members: one Nationalist, one Marxist, four Marxists who have moved toward Liberal positions and one Liberal. The Executive Secretariat members' average age was 45 years. A decision to seek and accept external funding was not taken by this group, but the extensive program they adopted foreshadowed the future need for external funding.

The Board which took the decision to accept external funding in 1991, was made up of 15 members: one Islamist, two Marxists, five Marxists having moved toward Liberal positions and six Liberals. The members' average age, 55.3 years, was notably higher than that of members of the Executive Secretariat; still, it was clearly in the age group that is expected to be open to wide-ranging external relations.

The EOHR today is an observer in the OAU CHPR, is affiliated to the IFHR, and maintains relations with such institutions as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International, the ICJ and Human Rights Watch. These are institutions concerned with supervising, monitoring and reporting on human rights violations. The EOHR also has relations with Western NGOs which provide training and resources to support promotion, field work, communication, publication, research, training and institution building activities in the field of human rights. Such organizations include the Internship Program, the National Endowment for Democracy, the John Merek Foundation, the Dutch International Development Agency (NOVIB), the International Service for Human Rights, Global Fund, the Friedreich Ebert Foundation, Agir ensemble pour les droits de l'Homme, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development.

Example Three: the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

The two founders of the CIHRS readily admit that around 1980 they moved away from their Marxist origins toward Liberal positions and may now be considered social-democrats or democratic socialists. One of them attributes a great part of his ideological shift to the events that befell Poland during the 1980s. The stated reason for this shift provides an indication of the sense of belonging to an international system, and the way all are affected by interactions taking place within it.

When the CIHRS appointed an honorary Board of Trustees, they chose persons whom they knew harbored Liberal ideas and were open to integration in the international institutional system. To carry out its research, publication, training and promotion activities, the CIHRS has also developed a wide base of international connections. It currently receives support from external institutions such as the Danish Agency for International Development (DANIDA), Agir ensemble pour les droits de l'Homme, the Friedreich Ebert Foundation, AMIDEAST, the Ford Foundation, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Rainbow, the Dutch International Development Agency (NOVIB), the Fullbright Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Bunstift Foundation.


It has often been argued that external links, particularly funding, may interfere with the priorities of ANGOHRs. Through the following examples, the author asserts that the real litmus test of the legitimacy of ANGOHRs' external relations are the horizontal extension and vertical deepening of the ANGOHR's activities.

Example One: the AOHR

The AOHR will first be considered as an ANGOHR which has horizontal and vertical extensions in its work. Ten people work for the Secretariat of the AOHR, which provides advice to international NGOs on the situation of human rights in the Arab World through exchanging information and international visits. The AOHR also attends meetings of the UN divisions concerned with human rights and is represented at major UN conferences. With regard to publications, it releases an annual report on the situation of human rights in the Arab World, which is based on laws and regulations, the media and individual communications received by the organization. It also produces a monthly bulletin. Issues of its quarterly periodical are not regular; but it occasionally publishes books on specific issues. With regard to lobbying, the AOHR offers press releases on particular events and intervenes with governments on particular human rights violations. With the Union of Arab Lawyers and the Arab Institute for Human Rights (AIHR), it is, at present, promoting the establishment of an information network on human rights in the Arab World.

Example Two: the EOHR

The EOHR has 13 branches, four of which have established permanent headquarters. It has benefitted from training courses organized and financed by such INGOs as the International Service for Human Rights and the Internship Program and thereby raised the level of professionalism of its 23 employees. The EOHR monitors the situation of human rights in Egypt, carries out field activities by investigating violations and visiting prisons, lobbies public authorities with respect to human rights abuses and convenes press conferences and issues urgent appeals.

With regard to information dissemination, as well as a regular bulletin, the EOHR publishes reports on specific issues of human rights. In 1995, the reports dealt with such issues as violence, violations of Egyptian migrant workers' rights in Gulf countries, prosecution before military courts and freedom of expression. The EOHR also organizes debates and launches information campaigns on human rights issues. In 1995, it took part in an effort to monitor legislative elections. Emanating from the AOHR, the EOHR in turn has been behind the establishment of at least three other Egyptian human rights organizations.

Internationally, it takes part in meetings, workshops and training courses organized for NGOs active in the field of human rights and thereby exchanges information and advice with external NGOs. For external NGOs visiting Egypt, it provides logistic support and organizes their programs. Two semi-autonomous projects, (one on female genital mutilation and another on legal assistance to women), are also attached to the organization. These projects employ eight activists working out of a separate office (EOHR, Cairo, n.d.). In sum, the EOHR has greatly expanded its national and international connections.

Example Three: the CIHRS

The CIHRS is a further example of how Arab actors can influence the international institutional system of human rights if they become integrated in it. The CIHRS employs sixteen people in addition to those commissioned for specific assignments. Locally, this ANGOHR has facilitated monthly seminars as well as lectures from visiting academics, researchers and activists. In 1995 there were twelve lectures and seven seminars held, dealing with such issues as conditions of human rights in Gaza, the problematic relationship between government and the intellectual community, and the Beijing document from a civil society perspective. The CIHRS also holds round-table discussions and debates and prepares research papers which are submitted to local and international meetings and seminars. It is noteworthy that after a research paper it presented to an international workshop, an external NGO asked the CIHRS to prepare a discussion paper on the necessary restructuring of the world human rights movement and the strategy for accomplishing this. NGOs from Africa, Asia and Latin America and noted Human Rights activists have also commented on the paper which, after it is revised, should be the basis of a large project such as a workshop, conference or publication.

With regard to information dissemination, the CIHRS has publications in Arabic and English including a bimonthly bulletin, and a quarterly periodical. Alone, or in cooperation with academic institutions, it organizes training courses for university students from Arab countries and provides research facilities including an important library for guest scholars and researchers(18) (CIHRS, 1995).

Example Four: Al-Haq

Al-Haq also conducts a wide range of activities on the local, regional and national level. Locally, al-Haq involves its members in Human Rights abuse data collection throughout the occupied territories which is then compiled into its data base. Its research unit conducts legal and human rights research, and its library unit is the only public law library in the Occupied Territories.

With respect to information dissemination, al-Haq has compiled data on Israeli military legislation in the West bank and in 1980 published this information under the title The West Bank and the Rule of Law. In 1985 it published The Occupier's Law which focused on the violation of the general principles/provisions of both international humanitarian law and human rights law in the Occupied Territories. During the uprising, it started the publication of its annual reports. Al-Haq has registered testimonies of victims of human rights abuses and has directly intervened with Israeli authorities. After its various publications on administrative detention, house demolition and prison conditions, Amnesty International, for the first time, unambiguously accused the Israel authorities of engaging in torture. This is clear example of how an ANGOHR can influence the behavior of external actors.

At the international level, al-Haq has taken part in conferences dealing with such issues as the international humanitarian law. Al-Haq also maintains a field representative in London. It has also briefed UN envoys on the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories.(19) In the mid-1980s, it established Labor Rights, Women's Rights and Legal Advice projects.


The evolving doctrine of international law has come to recognize that human rights are a matter of concern for the entire international community. This tenet can no longer be rejected on grounds of exclusive national jurisdiction. This recognition is the basis of the integration of the Arab human rights movement into the international institutional system of human rights. Differential integration can primarily be explained by the different legal status of ANGOHRs and by the characteristics of their leaders and founders.

Generally speaking, when it failed to obtain legal recognition from state authorities and was met by public hostility, the Arab Human Rights movement sought refuge and protection in the international system. This was the best available guarantee for it to be able to act in domestic societies. Absence of legal recognition added to the hostility from public authorities, and this meant that domestic resources would not be forthcoming for the emerging ANGOHRS. Thus the international system also became a source of badly needed resources. The more hostile the state and public were toward the ANGOHRs, the greater was their dependence on the international system.

This essay explored how characteristics of individuals behind the creation of ANGOHRs greatly influenced their general orientation, especially toward relationships with the external or international environment. When it came into being, the Arab human rights movement faced a dilemma. Implicit in its establishment was the recognition of its right to choose with whom to interact, and to what extent. However, many of the founders of these organizations had strong reservations about extending their international interactions. Their ideological backgrounds and cohort experiences did not predispose them toward enhancing interactions with the international Human Rights system. For the most part, these leaders were Arab Nationalists who grew up in times of confrontation with the masters of the international system. They had experienced profound disappointments and frustrations with this system. Their assessment of the functioning of civil societies was therefore not conducive to extensive relations with external institutions. With good cause, they were still suspicious of relations between the international system and civil societies. By establishing initial relations with the United Nations and with some other Human Rights NGOs, however, these ANGOHR founders initiated the process of international integration.

It took a new generation of leaders to reinforce the relationship between ANGOHRs and the external world. This shift was greatly influenced by the cohort experiences which differentiated this new generation of leaders from their predecessors. As Arab nationalists, in opposition to the state, many of them had opened their minds to the validity of Liberal ideas of pluralism. Marxists evolved toward Liberal positions under the influence of shifts in the international system. Liberals needed little convincing. The extension of Liberal ideas also affected the analysis the new generation made of relations between external states and civil societies. Therefore, those who were key in shifting ANGOHRs toward international integration tended to be younger and of Liberal ideology.

In conclusion, those ANGOHRs who are more integrated into the international system have greatly expanded or deepened their activities on behalf of human rights. They have carried out a greater number of, and more varied, activities than those who have maintained an isolationist stance. To the extent that these ANGOHRs express and promote the real demands of their communities (as opposed to externally imposed concerns), they can be said to be well on the path toward effective human rights work.


1. LeRoy Bennett, A., International Organizations: Principles and Issues. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall International, 1995, 6th Edition).

2. Vincent, R.J., Human Rights and International Relations. (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 111. (Published in association with the Royal Institute of International Affairs).

3. Ibid., p. 99.

4. Ibid., p. 109.

5. Ibid., p. 102.

6. Jam'iat Ansar Huquq al-Insan

7. Al-Munathamma al-'Arabiya li Huquq al-Insan: Nashra Ikhbariya (The Arab Organization for Human Rights: Newsletter), several issues (in Arabic).

8. Salem, Amir. Difa 'an an Haq Takwin al-Jam'iyat (In defence of the right of association), (Cairo: Center for Legal Research and Information on Human Rights, 1991), pp. 27-34 (in Arabic).

9. Rabbani, Mouin, "Palestinian Human Rights Activism under Israeli Occupation," Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 16, Number 2 (Spring 1994), pp.27-52.

10. Al-Sayyid, Mustapha Kamel, "The concept of civil society and the Arab World", in Political Liberalization and Democratization in the Arab World, Volume 1, Theoretical Perspectives, edited by Rex Brynen, Bahgat Korany and Paul Noble (Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995), pp. 131-147.

11. Ibid., p. 134.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid., pp. 134-135.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. 136.

16. Are considered Arab-oriented individuals those who call for reinforced links, arriving to the extent of integration between Arab countries without adopting an Arab Nationalist stance and discourse. They are here assimilated to Liberals.

17. A person who has moved away from the Nationalist theses is here considered a Conservative.

18. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), A Report on CIHRS Activities in the Year 1995. (Cairo, n.d.).

19. Rabbani, Mouin. op. cit., pp. 29-44.

Ibrahim Awad is an Egyptian political scientist working as a consultant with UN organizations. The original draft of this article was prepared for delivery at the Conference of the International Association of Middle Eastern Studies, April 1996, Mafraq, Jordan.
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Author:Awad, Ibrahim
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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