Uprisings in Arab countries have been a struggle for human dignity, but their successes to date can only be described as modest, in part because of their inability to freeze out sectarian hardliners trying to gain control in the region, according to an expert who spoke on the UWindsor campus Thursday.
“The people have not yet achieved what they were looking for,” said Bahey El Din Hassan, who has won the label “the father of the Egyptian Human Rights Movement.”
A guest of law professor Reem Bahdi, Hassan is a long-time advocate for Egypt’s human rights movement who has been fighting the abuses of the Mubarak regime for more than 20 years. He spoke to a group of invited guests from around campus at the Faculty of Law before heading off to Toronto to speak with the Arab Canadian Lawyers’ Association.
During his 60-minute discussion, he spoke about the historical significance of the Arab Spring uprising, noting that it came from the ground up, initiated by regular people rather than being directed by human rights organizations or other advocacy groups.
“The people have launched this struggle mainly because they are so keen to maintain their dignity,” said Hassan, who established the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and is the co-founder and director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “Thousands of people went to the streets to struggle for their dignity. They were ready to sacrifice their lives for their cause. This was a new historical development.”
And while some dictatorial regimes have been toppled as a result of the movements, Hassan suggested there has been little coordinated effort to prevent such hardline Islamic groups as the Muslim Brotherhood from capitalizing on the instability in such countries as Egypt and assuming control in their wake.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has been trying to reframe the revolution as a struggle for Islamic rule,” he said. “They are trying to reinvent the revolution and restructure its agenda.”
Part of their lack of strategic vision can be traced to the movement’s origins, he said. Referring specifically to the uprising in Tunisia that began in December of 2010 and sparked similar uprisings in other countries, he said that began simply as a hunger strike against food inflation, high unemployment and government corruption.
“They were not planning on a revolution,” he said. “This went far beyond what anyone imagined when they were planning a day of hunger.”