The meaning of good governance in the Arab world | Human Rights

My work as a diplomat and international civil servant entailed spending many years away from home. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel the world and learn about many cultures and peoples.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learned that has shaped my vision and thinking is that, contrary to conventional wisdom, we are one human family. Our hopes and our fears are the same. Our joy and our sadness are the same. Our core values ​​of justice, equality and solidarity do not differ, regardless of creed, race, language or color.

Ask people anywhere about their fears and aspirations, and their answer will be identical except for a few slight differences. If this simple and truly profound truth is accepted, we will not witness such violence, persecution, misery, and endless tragedies. In other words, if we understand that equality, justice, and solidarity are the path to our salvation, the world will be a different place, whether it is in the relations between states, among peoples in every place, or within every nation.

Arabic issues are lost in translation

When I look at the impact of inequality, justice and solidarity on our Arab issues, including the injustice suffered by the Palestinian people and the threat posed by Israel’s nuclear weapons program, I often wonder if the world’s position on our regional issues is? It would have been different if our concept of national security was derived from the common good and not subject to personal whims.

I also ask myself whether the international community would react differently to our legitimate concerns, if our relations with one another were constant and not subject to seasonal changes – if what we said in public was the same as what we did behind closed doors, if our peoples were seen as a source of strength that we had no burden to contain And if we realize that most disputes end with reconciliation, then this means that no matter how bitter the enmity is, we must not burn our bridges.

I also wonder if things would change if our decisions were based on a careful assessment of our common interest and national security policy that takes into account our soft capabilities, hard power, and the importance of timing in making our strategic decisions.

If we want the world to care about us, we must care about the world. On many global issues including the nuclear arms race, climate change, the technology revolution, and women’s rights, we are not active participants in the ongoing debate, unless we believe it affects us directly. And even when we do participate, it is often from a narrow regional perspective and in a language that the rest of the world does not understand.

The meaning of equality and justice

If we examine all the Arab uprisings during the past decade, we will find that the quest for equality and justice was the engine of all those revolutions in which the regime did not tolerate any other means to bring about change. Despite efforts in the region to portray the Arab Spring as a conspiracy and a harbinger of chaos, I have no doubts that it will return in one form or another, as long as its root causes are not addressed. Tunisia and Sudan are present examples in this regard

The meaning of equality that the Arab uprisings expressed in different ways can be summarized as follows: We are all equal in our “belonging to the homeland” that entitles us to be partners in its rule. The principle of justice and respect for the rights of every human being must be upheld without discrimination.

Participation in governance means a system of good governance that ensures equality, pluralism, transparency, accountability, devolution of power, an independent judiciary, a strong civil society, and free media. Democracy is not a perfect system, but it is the best that our contemporary world has come up with to achieve human dignity.

Democratic order is by no means limited to the ballot box; It is a comprehensive model based on institutions, not individuals. Civil society requires raising awareness of the culture of democracy and consolidating its practices. However, it primarily requires a true consensus on a social contract that guarantees freedom, equality and dignity for all.

Democracy will always be a work in progress that must be adapted to experience on the ground. There are different models for its application but there are, however, minimum standards for what can be called a “democratic system”, most notably freedom of expression and belief, and guarantees for the exercise of civil and political rights including the establishment of independent parties, trade unions and associations.

When we try to emulate democracy in our region, we often jump to elections before building the necessary framework and institutions that guarantee their true freedom, integrity and representation. We usually put our “unique” culture imprint on our brand of democracy, which translates to crushing any and all opposition.

By doing this, we end up deceiving ourselves but not the world. Considering differences of opinion as a “threat” and those opponents as “enemies” who must be eliminated with vengeance is a zero-sum game where everyone loses. The “battle” of ideas is the way to encourage creativity and progress. Different visions are necessary and healthy.

Understanding the rule of law

And what about justice? They must be understood as abstract rules issued by a freely elected legislature and applied to all without exception. Laws should be based on justice, not tools in the service of power. The experience of most Arab countries shows that we still have a long way to go before we reach the “rule of law” as universally accepted and defined.

In terms of respect for human rights, we still do not see the symbiotic relationship between freedom and human dignity. In addition, we must understand that empowering people is the basis of security, stability and progress.

We need to accept that political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in international human rights treaties are universal, indivisible and non-negotiable. We also need to acknowledge that no region is ‘unique’ and that human rights should not be used as a bargaining chip in geopolitics. Human rights are the rights of every human being.

These are some of the basic concepts that are regressing in large parts of our Arab world despite being fundamental to our “renaissance”. The link between good governance and progress is unambiguous.

There are some basic truths that we must embrace if we want to improve our lives: No one possesses the ultimate truth; The sanctity of life is absolute. All human beings have equal rights; Human rights are inalienable; Science is the key to progress. Poverty is a form of violence; Compassion and tolerance are the essence of humanity; In the end, there is no substitute for living together.

International cooperation is a must

These core values ​​and truths should be our compass at home as well as in our interactions with the rest of the world. This means working together to tackle the global challenges we face, including climate change, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, pandemics, organized crime, and cybersecurity. Cooperation in a globalized world is as much a practical necessity as it is a moral imperative because no country, no matter how powerful, can handle these risks alone.

Unfortunately, our words often do not match our actions. For example, everyone is aware of the climate crisis, but very few are willing to do what it takes to confront it. Everyone warns of the seriousness of the epidemic, but at the same time we see toxic nationalism and blatant discrimination in the production and distribution of the vaccine.

Unless we reset our collective mentality and make drastic adjustments to the international system to be more just and equitable, I fear we will continue down a path that may lead to our own destruction.

A version of this article was first published in Arabic on Al Jazeera Mubasher.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


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