|Photo credit: Project on Middle East Democracy|
The second anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder at the hands of Saudi assassins has had few if any silver linings on the dark clouds of state repression that have been visited upon the Arab world.1 Ensconced in their thrones and presidential palaces, autocrats have imposed their often lethal power in full view of western governments.
Against this grim background it is worth pondering if there will be a change in American Middle East policy after January 20, 2021. We know what will follow if Donald Trump is reelected. No western leader has embraced Middle East autocrats with the alacrity and enthusiasm that Trump has shown. By contrast, if Joe Biden wins, at least on a rhetorical level he should find it easy to distinguish his policies from those of his predecessor, who warmly welcomed Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to the White House.2
Indeed, Biden has made a very public promise to stop giving Arab autocrats a “blank check.” But when it comes to translating words into action, he will have to grapple with many concrete challenges, including the tenacity of Arab autocracies and a strategic Middle East map that has created tighter synergies between Arab regimes. Given these constraints, the odds are that a Biden Administration will have neither the means nor the will to confront Arab autocracies. But if pushing for democracy is unlikely, a compelling case can still be made for ensuring that human rights are essential in any wider US Middle East policy.
Given current presidential polling trends, former Vice President Joe Biden might have an almost insurmountable advantage over President Trump. What follows is a brief discussion of how a second Trump term will affect the Middle East and the prospects of political reform in the Arab world, as well as a consideration of what a Biden presidency will do regarding the issues of democracy and human rights in the region.
A Second Trump Presidency Will Predictably Support Autocracies
President Donald Trump has made it very clear that when it comes to global politics, he expects other nations, be they foes or friends of the United States, not merely to focus on their own interests, but to do so in ways that highlight their own cultures and national traditions. This is a polite way of saying that Trump has openly declared that the views that underscore his nationalist, “Make America Great Again” motto should be a template for international relations.3 This view will guide his approach to the Middle East in a second term. Fostered in part by his administration, the expanding entente between the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain now includes Israel and will provide a potent strategic asset for advancing Trump’s hybrid of realism and American focused nationalism. Indeed, a new Trump administration will look to this entente to advance US interests and might even try to expand and consolidate its clout by renewing efforts to bridge the breach between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors. Trump’s assumption that Arab leaders (and those in Israel) share his enthusiasm for his blend of realism and nationalism will help grease the wheels for any such approach.
What a second Trump Administration will not do, however, is pay any attention to questions of political change, much less democracy or human rights. Congressional funding for democracy assistance organizations such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute will probably continue. But on the crucial plane of high diplomacy, a Trump White House will support Arab autocrats not only because it will see this policy as pragmatically wise; it will be viewed erroneously by its officials as naturally consonant with the supposed “values” of the Arab world; i.e., undemocratic. This approach will be directed first and foremost toward Iran. Trump’s obsession with Iran is largely a function of his hatred of former President Barak Obama and his policies. But Trump’s personal motives mesh well with the priorities of a foreign policy team whose leader, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is determined to pursue an implicit policy of regime change rather than confront the difficult task of genuine negotiations with Tehran.
Still, it is impossible to predict whether Pompeo’s hardline policy will be sustained in a new Trump White House or whether Trump’s mercurial approach to foreign policy might induce him to pursue a new initiative with Iran despite his withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of action (JCPOA). Trump might also support pushing for a solution on Yemen. Such shifts may not sit well with some Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. But Riyadh and its regional allies have much to gain from cooperating with a new if unpredictable Trump Administration that––as MbS (who is likely to become king) surely knows––will not respect the issue of democracy or human rights in the Arab world.
Biden’s Foreign Policy Vision
Biden’s approach to the Middle East and the wider global arena will, of course, be very different. At the heart of his foreign policy vision is a call to restore US leadership through diplomacy and multilateralism.4 Decrying Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hyper nationalism, Biden and his advisers have called for bridging the gap between Washington and its allies, starting with NATO. Thus their paramount focus is on reviving the networks of relations and global commitments that have been central to US security and economic prosperity. This vision includes and indeed emphasizes democracy. Biden has argued that the United States cannot defend freedom abroad without first repairing America’s tattered democratic institutions and processes. This order of political battle, so to speak, is also framed in multilateral language. For example, Biden and his team argue that as the US moves forward on renewing democracy at home,
President Biden will organize and host a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the Free World. During his first year in office, President Biden will bring together the world’s democracies to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront the challenge of nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda to address threats to our common values.5
This call to restore the American role as partner and leader of the “Free World” is directly tied to confronting democratic “backsliding.”6 This term refers to an array of ills including corruption, poor governance, political polarization, and the rise of populist leaders who have assaulted their democracies. Biden’s focus will thus be on tackling problems in a growing club of democracies––including Hungary, Poland, Brazil, and, yes, the United States—rather than on fostering democracy in pro-US autocracies.7 When it comes to the latter, Biden and his team must contend with a region beset by conflicts that threaten US security interests and those of its regional allies. This is a remarkably different situation from normal conditions.
Security, Democracy, and Middle East Realities
The intersecting security challenges that define the strategic contours of the Middle East pose a familiar challenge: how to balance power and principle. On this score, Biden’s foreign policy valorizes democracy and human rights while emphasizing security interests. Thus, for example, his team rejects the Trump policy of regime change in Iran and instead calls for a multilateral effort to return to the nuclear agreement and to expand the negotiating agenda to address the Islamic Republic’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile program.8 Echoing Barak Obama’s approach, the guiding assumption is that engaging a dangerous regime must take precedence over Trump’s failed bid to undermine a nasty regime, one whose hardliners are now stronger than ever.9
But it is the Arab world that presents Biden with the thorniest of dilemmas. After all, the United States has hitched its geostrategic wagon to an entente of autocracies that is led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Oman, and Qatar playing supporting if complicated roles. Yet despite these realities, Biden and his team argue that ties to these states should not come at the expense of tolerating the abuses of the US’s regional partners. As the 2020 Democratic Party’s platform notes, while the US “has an interest in helping our partners contend with legitimate security threats,” there is “no interest in continuing the blank-check era of the Trump Administration, or indulging authoritarian impulses, internal rivalries, catastrophic proxy wars, or efforts to roll back political openings across the region.”10
Biden has echoed this language in his public statements. His strongest announcement to date came on the anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder. He asserted that “Under a Biden-Harris administration,”
We will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil. America’s commitment to democratic values and human rights will be a priority, even with our closest security partners. I will defend the right of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to speak their minds freely without fear of persecution and violence.”11
While paraphrasing the official Democratic Party platform, the above statement reflects Biden’s distinctly critical view of Saudi Arabia, one that predates Khashoggi’s murder by 35 years. Indeed, in July 1986 Biden asserted on the floor of the Senate that “Middle East policy…has been riddled with some absurdities. One of the absurdities is the mythical notion that the Saudis, even if they were so predisposed, are able to be agents of change and… agents of U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf region.”12 That he expressed these sentiments decades before any US policy makers could possibly imagine Riyadh pursuing a US-supplied war in Yemen that has killed thousands of innocents, or MbS’s dispatching of killers to murder a prominent dissident in the Saudi Istanbul consulate, underscores the depths of Biden’s concerns about Saudi Arabia.13
Walking the Fine Line of Liberal Realism
But if the above language seems to suggest that Biden will give greater priority to the “liberal” element in the Liberal Realist equation that animates his foreign policy vision, there are myriad factors that will impede any bid to advance democratic change in the Arab world.
The first is the tenacity of authoritarian regimes.14 The rise of authoritarian leaders such as Sisi and MbS feeds the erroneous view that their autocracies consist solely of one-leader despotisms backed by the brute force of security institutions. Even autocrats must sustain ruling coalitions whose members are linked to different groups. The provision of protection and patronage keeps these groups dependent on regimes, thus allowing leaders to play one group against the other. Thus the apparent but not surprising paradox: Recent surveys show wide support for democracy and democratic values.15 But groups such as the Shia in Kuwait, secular professionals, entrepreneurs and politicians leaders in Egypt, or secular and Islamist leaders in Bahrain’s Sunni minority, are often unwilling to abandon their regime protectors.16 By shielding them from the unknowns of open democratic competition, leaders like Sisi and MbS have deflected domestic and international pressures to open up their political systems.17
The impetus to deflect such pressures is far greater now than it was in the wake of the 2011 “Arab Spring” or during the decade that preceded it. Indeed, during the 2000s the rulers of hybrid, “liberalized autocracies” in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait tried to coopt rather than defy American calls for political reforms. They did so by appearing to facilitate––or not oppose–the “demand driven” model that was the mainstay of US democracy assistance programs.18 This model hinged on supporting the efforts of Arab civil society groups to push regimes to open up, but without any parallel pressure from Washington on Arab governments to supply real democratic reforms.
Today, this diplomatically convenient formula––lots of demand and little supply––is far harder to implement because many Arab regimes have shrunk or closed the space for civil society activism.19 This transition to more closed forms of autocracy has been fueled by the specter of civil war and full or partial state collapse in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Having watched these events unfold, Arab autocrats––many of whose actions by default or design opened the door to the so-called Islamic State (IS) and its regional affiliates or to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s carnage in Syria––now fear that the slightest political openings could result in state collapse or their own political or even physical demise.20 They are thus resolved to crush any domestic groups that are seen to be backed by Western states.
This situation raises the second factor that works against US support for democratic reforms. The entente that the Trump Administration helped to forge between UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel has created new and lasting geostrategic realities. While fueled by fear of Iran, this entente is also animated by a desire to prevent or disrupt elections that might empower Sunni Islamists.21 A Biden Administration will have to work with this alliance. It will do so because it provides a framework for enhancing security coordination between Israel and Gulf states and because China and Russia are trying to leverage this entente to expand their influence.22 Given these realities, Biden will avoid a direct clash with Gulf leaders, including MbS. This does not mean that he will renege on his pledge to end US support for the Yemen war, but he is likely to pursue this policy by nudging rather than confronting Arab leaders.
Defining Feasible Democracy Assistance in a Biden Administration
The above constraints will narrow the strategic and diplomatic space for any new Biden Administration to foster democracy in the Arab world. But there is room for thinking creatively about feasible strategies, provided that Biden and his team show greater analytical precision than has thus far been suggested by his own inspiring but vague language. Feasibility requires two things: first, giving actors within regimes––and their supporters––a compelling incentive to foster or permit political reforms, and second, using US leverage to prod Arab autocrats forward. Biden and his team, however, have tossed out a bunch of goals and terms which have very different meanings and implications. This confusion makes it difficult to assess where and how Washington can push for viable political changes.
After all, democracy, democratic values, and human rights are related but distinct projects.23 The first requires an elaborate network of institutions, laws, and social conditions, not to mention the political will of rival leaders to negotiate. It is no coincidence that Tunisia––the only Arab state to enjoy many of these assets––is also the one Arab state that has made a fragile democratic transition.24 As to “democratic values,” while most citizens of Arab states endorse them, when it comes to implementing such norms there is often little consensus. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE and their domestic allies will not test the waters to see which group will benefit most from competitive elections. Thus, celebrating democratic values is not hard. What is hard is to create programs and policies that give leaders and their followers compelling incentives to break with the battered yet still durable mechanics of autocracy.
By contrast, as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights shows, the term “human rights” carries with it a global message of freedom and personal dignity that is not reducible to any culture or religion, or even to a particular type of government.25 Recent public opinion surveys show that when defined in terms of basic freedoms or protection from illegal state violence, there is strong support for human rights.26 Such sentiments could provide an opening for the US to make the case to its Arab allies that they can––and indeed must––eliminate gross human rights violations if they want some modicum of wider domestic and global legitimacy.
Toward a US Human Rights Strategy in the Arab World
How then to proceed? Given domestic, regional, and global conditions, a return to a “demand side” approach that hinges on the ability of local human rights groups to press autocratic governments is unlikely to have much effect. What is needed instead is for the US government to make human rights a clear part of US foreign policy once again. If, during its first year, a Biden Administration wants to project a revitalized diplomacy in the Middle East and wider international community, it should host a Global Human Rights Summit and invite victims of abuses from multiple regions of the world to tell their stories.
This call will be widely heard by Arab leaders, their constituencies and, of course, by beleaguered oppositions. It will resonate because human rights abuses have reached new heights, thus disrupting many dimensions of everyday life for both citizens and elites, not to mention the plans of Arab regimes.27 Indeed, the use of repression in US-friendly Arab countries has not advanced market economic reforms. Leaders such as Sisi or MbS wager that the international community will ignore their abuses if they can show progress on such reforms. But the climate of fear these regimes have created––deepened by the COVID 19 crisis—has disrupted such ambitions.28
In fact, the argument that the benefits of economic reform outweigh the “unfortunate” costs of rights violations is an ugly excuse for tolerating intolerable practices. These abuses include the use of arbitrary “anti-terrorism” laws, courts, and prisons as tools of repression.29 It is easy to condemn Iran for such policies, but quite another to assail pro-US Arab governments for similar abuses. Egypt has some 60,000 political prisoners, far more than the Islamic Republic of Iran.30 In early October 2020 alone, 15 political prisoners were executed in Egypt’s notorious Scorpion prison.31 Saudi Arabia also has used prisons to sicken or kill its critics.32
A US-led campaign by Western governments to push Arab leaders to end such outrages will only put a small dent in the armor of autocracies, but it will be significant in human terms. Moreover, on a political plane, it could give voice to the lonely efforts of political veterans such as Egypt’s Mohammed Anwar Sadat, who was expelled from the parliament in 2017 for assailing the government’s abuses.33 With the blessing of a new US rights policy, Arab leaders who maintain ties to ruling coalitions but nevertheless favor political reforms could deliver a powerful message, namely that policies of fear, intimidation and repression are corroding the connection between regimes and their societies, thus making states less rather than more secure.34
Benefits and Limits of a Rights Approach
Such a strategy will have its limits. Washington’s ties to Arab leaders give it some leverage, but within boundaries set by the resolve of Arab regimes to survive. Still, a mix of quiet bilateral diplomacy and loud multilateral action could do more to embarrass and discomfort human rights abusers than the sharper knife of threats, many of which the US will find hard to carry out. A Biden White House could also get help from several Washington-based Arab human rights nongovernment organizations. Led by activists who have suffered imprisonment or torture––or who come from families that endured such abuses—organizations such as DAWN and the Freedom Initiative are now pushing the US Congress to pursue a rights-based policy.35
A human rights strategy could also buttress Biden’s pledge to revive the Palestinian-Israeli talks. Such an initiative will stall if whatever Israeli government in charge on January 20, 2021, sustains a policy of seizing Palestinian lands and homes.36 Apart from their moral implications, such actions have undercut the efforts of Palestinian officials to demonstrate that they have serious peace partners in Israel and the United States. Making this case to Israel will also be easier if the United States encourages Gulf Arab allies to actively support serious and just peace talks.
On a global plane, a rights strategy will bolster the efforts of Washington and its western allies to hold major violators such as China accountable. Moreover, it will send a strong signal to illiberal populists who lead ostensibly “democratic” governments that they no longer have a welcome mat at the White House. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban has praised Trump for opposing what Orban calls the “moral imperialism” of the Democrats.37 But there is nothing imperialistic about championing universal values so long as a Biden administration advocates for human rights even as it pursues America’s security and geostrategic and diplomatic interests.
1 The documentary “Kingdom of Silence” focuses on the assassination. See Adrian Horton, “’He Was Murdered to Silence Him’: a Shocking Film on Jamal Khashoggi,” The Guardian, October 2, 2020 (accessed 10/2/2020 at www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/oct/02/jamal-khashoggi-documentary-kingdom-of-silence).
2 See Michele Kelemen, “Trump Welcomes Egypt’s Sissi To Washington In Reboot Of Bilateral Ties,” National Public Radio, April 3, 2017 (accessed 9/29/2020 at www.npr.org/2017/04/03/522503816/trump-welcomes-egypts-sissi-to-washington-in-reboot-of-bilateral-ties), and John Haltiwanger and Sonam Sheth, “’I Saved His a–‘: Trump Boasted That He Protected Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after Jamal Khashoggi’s Brutal Murder, Woodward’s New Book Says,” Business Insider, September 10, 2020 (accessed 9/29/2020 at www.businessinsider.in/politics/world/news/i-saved-his-a-trump-boasted-that-he-protected-saudi-crown-prince-mohammed-bin-salman-after-jamal-khashoggis-brutal-murder-according-to-woodwards-new-book/articleshow/78045272.cms).
3 See “Read Trump’s Speech to the UN General Assembly,” VOX, September 28, 2018 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://www.vox.com/2018/9/25/17901082/trump-un-2018-speech-full-text).
4 “Foreign Policy and American Leadership Plan,” Joe Biden for President: Official Campaign Website (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://joebiden.com/AmericanLeadership/).
5 “Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Vice President Joe Biden,” Democracy in Action, July 11, 2019 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://www.democracyinaction.us/2020/biden/bidenpolicy071119foreignpolicy.html).
6 Nancy Bermeo, “On Democratic Backsliding,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2016, pp. 5-19 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/607612).
7 Christopher Ingraham, “The United States Is Backsliding into Autocracy under Trump, Scholars Warn,” The Washington Post, September 18, 2020 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/09/18/united-states-is-backsliding-into-autocracy-under-trump-scholars-warn/).
8 Joe Biden, “There’s a smarter way to be tough on Iran,” Cable News Network (CNN), September 13, 2020 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/13/opinions/smarter-way-to-be-tough-on-iran-joe-biden/index.html).
9 See Daniel Brumberg, “The uncertain victory of Iran’s hardliners,” Responsible Statecraft, February 27, 2020 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2020/02/27/the-uncertain-victory-of-irans-hardliners/).
10 “Renewing American Leadership” Democratic National Committee, n.d. (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://democrats.org/where-we-stand/party-platform/renewing-american-leadership/).
11 “Anniversary of Jamal Kashoggi’s Murder – Statement by Vice President Joe Biden,” Joe Biden For President: Official Campaign Website, October 2, 2020 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://joebiden.com/2020/10/02/anniversary-of-jamal-khashoggis-murder-statement-by-vice-president-joe-biden/?fbclid=IwAR0z1gKDOw9efWhSugwoJJq4qY_2okaMsAClcL-ZFBVa2Dh5QTQJKrocmCw).
12 Daniel DePetris, “Joe Biden’s Foreign Policy Perspective Could Impact the Saudi Peace Plan,” The National Interest, September 28, 2020 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://nationalinterest.org/blog/skeptics/joe-biden%E2%80%99s-foreign-policy-perspective-could-impact-saudi-peace-plan-169734). For the original statement see: “Senate Session: After Morning Business, the Senate debate and votes to override the President’s veto of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” C-SPAN, June 15, 1986 (accessed 10/2/2020 at www.c-span.org/video/?45851-1%2Fsenate-session).
13 Julian Barnes, “C.I.A. Concludes That Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Khashoggi Killed,” The New York Times, November 16, 2018 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/16/us/politics/cia-saudi-crown-prince-khashoggi.html).
14 Steven Heydemann, “Arab autocrats are not going back to the future,” The Washington Post, December 4, 2014 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/12/04/arab-autocrats-are-not-going-back-to-the-future/).
15 “The 2019-2020 Arab Opinion Index: Main Results in Brief,” The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, October 6, 2020 (accessed 10/15/2020 at https://www.dohainstitute.org/en/Lists/ACRPS-PDFDocumentLibrary/Arab-Opinion-Index-2019-2020-Inbreef-English-Version.pdf).
16 Madeleine Wells, “Sectarianism and authoritarianism in Kuwait,” The Washington Post, April 13, 2015 (accessed 9/29/2020 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/04/13/sectarianism-and-authoritarianism-in-kuwait/); Michelle Dunne and Amr Hamzawy, “Egypt’s Secular Political Parties: A Struggle for Identity and Independence,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 13, 2017 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/03/31/egypt-s-secular-political-parties-struggle-for-identity-and-independence-pub-68482); Courtney Freer, “Challenges to Sunni Islamism in Bahrain Since 2011,” Carnegie Middle East Center, March 6, 2019 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://carnegie-mec.org/2019/03/06/challenges-to-sunni-islamism-in-bahrain-since-2011-pub-78510).
17 For an example of this manipulative game in Sisi’s Egypt, see Amr Emam, “Why are Egypt’s Salafists backing Sisi?” The Arab Weekly, January 28, 2018 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://thearabweekly.com/why-are-egypts-salafists-backing-sisi) and Eric Cunningham, “Egypt’s Salafist Nour party in tenuous political alliance with president-elect Sissi,” The Washington Post, June 1, 2014 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-salafist-nour-party-in-tenuous-political-alliance-with-president-elect-sissi/2014/06/01/aff3a400-e826-11e3-8f90-73e071f3d637_story.html).
18 See Daniel Brumberg, “Beyond Liberalization?” The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 28, Issue 2, Spring 2004 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://www.questia.com/read/1G1-116406968/beyond-liberalization).
19 On the limits of a civil society focused democratization strategy, see Vickie Langohr, “Too Much Civil Society, Too Little Politics: Egypt and Liberalizing Arab Regimes,” Comparative Politics, Vol. 36, No. 2, 2004, pp. 181–204 (accessed 10/12/2020 at www.jstor.org/stable/4150142).
20 See Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), Studies 21, Transnational Diffusion and Cooperation in the Middle East, August 24, 2016, especially “Convergence through Learning” by Maria Josua and “Contagious Crumbling” by Oliver Schlumberger (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://pomeps.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/POMEPS_Studies_21_Transnational_Web-REV.pdf). On Assad’s self-serving account of events in Syria, see “Syria uprising: Assad says Arab Spring brought chaos.” BBC News, September 21, 2012 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-19671635).
21 On this entente’s anti-democratic leanings see, Giorgio Cafiero, “The UAE Campaign Against Political Islam: Implications For London,“ LobeLog, December 27, 2018 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://lobelog.com/the-uae-campaign-against-political-islam-implications-for-london/) and Muhammad Abdalsattar, “The UAE’s War on the Muslim Brotherhood,” Egyptian Institute for Studies, May 15, 2019 (accessed 9/25/2020 https://en.eipss-eg.org/the-uaes-war-on-the-muslim-brotherhood/).
22 Paul Iddon, “Russia and China vie for influence in US-dominated Middle East arms market,” The New Arab, June 24, 2020 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2020/6/24/russia-china-seek-foothold-in-middle-east-arms-market); “Growing demand for Russian arms in the Middle East: The Syria Effect?” Middle East Strategic Perspectives, June 21, 2018 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.mesp.me/2018/06/21/growing-demand-for-russian-arms-in-the-middle-east-the-syria-effect/); Tariq Alfaham, “Mohamed bin Zayed receives note from Chinese president,” WAM, October 10, 2020 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://wam.ae/en/details/1395302876114); Oren Dorell, “Russia offers Egypt no-strings-attached arms deal,” USA Today, February 13, 2014 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/02/13/russia-egypt-arms-deal/5459563/).
23 On the complex relationship between democracy and human rights see Lillian Carson, “Human Rights and Democracy: An Incompatible or Complementary Relationship?” E-International Relations, May 7, 2017 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://www.e-ir.info/2017/05/07/human-rights-and-democracy-an-incompatible-or-complimentary-relationship/).
24 See Daniel Brumberg and Maryam Ben Salem, “Tunisia’s Endless Transition?” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2020, pp. 110–124 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/753198).
25 UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, December 10, 1948 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html).
26 Richard Wikie and Shannon Schumacher, “Democratic Rights Popular Globally but Commitment to Them Not Always Strong,” Pew Research Center, February 27, 2020 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/02/27/democratic-rights-popular-globally-but-commitment-to-them-not-always-strong/).
27 Andrew Gilmour “The Global Backlash Against Human Rights,” United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, University of California, Berkeley and McGeorge School of Law, Sacramento, March 12 and 13, 2018 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23202&LangID=E https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/sep/09/human-rights-violations-increase-corporate-responsibility).
28 Selam Gebrekidan, “For Autocrats, and Others, Corona Virus is Another Opportunity to grab even more power,” The New York Times, April 14, 2020 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/world/europe/coronavirus-governments-power.html).
29 “Saudi Arabia’s new Anti-Terrorism Law Strengthens Crackdown on Fundamental Freedoms” Al-Karama, November 22, 2017 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.alkarama.org/en/articles/saudi-arabias-new-anti-terrorism-law-makes-same-mistakes-its-predecessor-abusing); Anis Osman, “10 years on: Jordan’s anti-terrorism law and the crackdown on dissent,” Open Democracy, October 31, 2016 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/10-years-on-jordan-s-anti-terrorism-law-and-crackdown-on-dissent/); “Egypt’s Sisi approves anti-terrorism law creating special courts,” Reuters, August 17, 2015 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-security-lawmaking/egypts-sisi-approves-anti-terrorism-law-creating-special-courts-idUSKCN0QL0TU20150817 https://fanack.com/egypt/human-rights/egypt-prisons/).
30 “’Save Us:’ The last shout of Egypt’s detainees,’ Egypt Watch, March 23, 2020 (accessed 9/25/2020 at
31 “Egypt Executes 15 Political Prisoners in New Crackdown,” Tasnim News Agency, October 6, 2020 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2020/10/06/2363990/egypt-executes-15-political-prisoners-in-new-crackdown).
32 Nick Hopkins, “Leaked reports reveal severe abuse of Saudi political prisoners,” The Guardian, March 31, 2019 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/31/leaked-reports-reveal-abuse-saudi-arabia-political-prisoners); Abdullah Alaoudh, “Saudi Arabia is responsible for the slow death of the kingdom’s Nelson” Washington Post, April 24, 2020 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/24/saudi-arabia-is-responsible-slow-death-kingdoms-nelson-mandela/).
33 “Egypt parliament expels MP critical of human rights record,” BBC, February 28, 2017 (accessed 9/25/2020 at
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39114342). Also see, Daniel Brumberg, “Sisi’s Difficult Road to Full Autocracy,” Revue Tunisienne de Science Politique,” Vol, 1, No. 1, September 2019, pp 103-125 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://www.pum.umontreal.ca/revues/revue-tunisienne-de-science-politique/numeros/revue-tunisienne-de-science-politique-v_-1-no-01).
34 On the social and political tensions provoked by Sisi’s policies, see “Egypt: Lawyers say police arrested hundreds over protests,” Associated Press, December 23, 2019 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://apnews.com/article/a8ff692375eb44a191eb908e3b82abd1); “Egypt: Growing calls for anti-regime Friday protests,” Anadolu Agency, October 1, 2020 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/egypt-growing-calls-for-anti-regime-friday-protests-/1991979), and “One ‘killed’ in Egypt as protesters demand el-Sisi resign,” Al Jazeera, September 26, 2020 (accessed 10/2/2020 at https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/26/one-killed-in-egypt-as-protestors-demand-el-sisi-resign); on Algeria see ‘Algerians take to streets despite ban on protests,” Arab News, October 6, 2020 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://www.arabnews.com/node/1744971/algerians-take-streets-despite-ban-protests); on Jordan see Curtis Ryan, “Resurgent Protests Confront New and Old Red Lines in Jordan,” Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), 292/3 (Fall/Winter 2019 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://merip.org/2019/12/resurgent-protests-confront-new-and-old-red-lines-in-jordan/).
35 See Democracy in the Arab World (DAWN) Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ArabDawn and The Freedom Initiative: Advocating for Hope Against All Odds at https://thefreedomi.org/.
36 “Israel: Discriminatory Land Policies Hem in Palestinians,” Human Rights Watch, May 12, 2020 (accessed 10/12/2020 at https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/12/israel-discriminatory-land-policies-hem-palestinians). See also The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) at https://www.btselem.org/.
37 Adam Payne, “Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban endorses Trump and denounces the ‘moral imperialism’ of the Democrats,” Business Insider, September 21, 2020 (accessed 9/25/2020 at https://www.businessinsider.com/viktor-orban-endorses-trump-denounces-moral-imperialism-of-democrats-2020-9).