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Book Chapter

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Regional Security in the Middle East: Sectors, Variables and Issues

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The Middle East is often portrayed as an outlier when it comes to human rights, but rights are an important part of the political, diplomatic, and social fabric of the region. This chapter summarises regional trends in human rights advocacy at both the international and domestic levels. Popular movements for independence, equality for women, and protections for workers have deep roots in the region. When the United Nations began to enshrine these values into law after World War II, representatives from the Middle East were at the centre of the debates. In the following two decades, human rights largely played out in the international political realm. Middle Eastern governments contributed to diplomatic efforts to shape emerging treaties and norms and often mobilised human rights rhetoric against colonialism.

In the 1970s, however, the locus of human rights shifted to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that used human rights to pressure their own governments for change. Activists created organisations promoting the rights of prisoners, leftists, Islamists, dissidents, women, and the poor. Human rights became more threatening to Middle Eastern regimes that were overwhelmingly undemocratic. States had little tolerance for institutions that could challenge them and often responded violently.

Even though widespread violations continue, human rights have become an important framework across the region. Most states now address human rights concerns in response to domestic and international pressure. Rights have increasingly become the language of popular protest and were one of several ways that people articulated grievances before and during the uprisings in several Arab countries in 2011.


This publication is from Chapter 11 of Regional Security in the Middle East: Sectors, Variables and Issues (Bettina Koch & Yannis A. Stivachtis eds., E-International Relations Publishing, 2019).

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