In his 2012 address to the United Nations, President Obama said:
We must seize this moment, and America stands ready to work with all who are willing to embrace a better future. The future must not belong to those who target Coptic Christians in Egypt. It must be claimed by those in Tahrir Square who chanted, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” The future must not belong to those who bully women. It must be shaped by girls who go to school and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons.
I look forward to an American administration that is willing and able to engage in the Middle East and elsewhere with honesty and integrity. Continued violations of the basic rights of the Palestinian people by Israel, accompanied by blind support from Washington, hardly helps “America” to project an image of the honest broker. Before talking the talk of the higher moral ground, “America” has got to walk the walk of supporting justice and standing against aggression. It’s only then that such words could have a profound positive impact, and hopefully deprive the forces of evil and intolerance from having the Middle East as a breeding ground for their disciples of their extremist ideology. Indeed, we’ve got to seize this moment!
I then thought that the argument he brought up, however it was seemingly enveloped in simple logic, is yet somewhat dangerous. It poses a condition - an effective stumbling block - ahead of any human rights progress. The Palestinian problem is indeed real and painful, but to ask America to (first) stop siding with Israel, for the Arab world to stop its aggression against minorities, women or children, (then) it will appear to be a fair broker, is in itself treacherous. I think the Palestinian dispute is convoluted and painstaking, but I don’t agree that all other serious transgressions should wait until it sees a resolution.
There should be no disagreement on the non-conditionality of human rights. No state of affairs should ever be imposed before the respect for human rights. The realization of minority rights, and rights of women and non-Muslims in the Middle East, should never be held hostage until other violations of human rights in the region may come to an end.
Good for President Obama that he is an eloquent speaker and that he is aware of current pressing issues in the Middle East. But would his human rights pitch have any positive effect on the people of that region, if it is not followed by a demonstration that these principles are not applied only when convenient, one might contend.
I would argue that I don’t think “the people of that region” give a hoot about human rights, or whether the Americans apply those principles to the Palestinians or not. I want to remind everyone that the Obama administration had been much more politically unbending in regards to Israel, than other previous administrations, and that the current Israeli government had also been much more lenient than usual in dealing with Hamas’ rockets, and almost daily border skirmishes by the Palestinians or the Egyptians. This on the other hand had no observable impact on treatment of minorities in Bahrain, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia.
Americans withdrew from Iraq, and look at what’s still happening to Christians and Shias there. Didn’t they say that this was their reaction to American occupation? Consider the treatment of women in Egypt and other Arab countries even after toppling of dictatorships, have you heard about female circumcision campaigns, and mass veiling of children and adult women in Gaza, Libya, Tunisia and in Egypt? Did you hear about the head of the women committee at the Egyptian Parliament calling for mass circumcision of women and children, annihilating women’s right to obtain divorce (kholl’e), etc.? Can we still postulate that all this is happening because America supports Israel?
Egypt has signed the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) with an explicitly spelled out condition that none of its articles would contradict with Islamic law (sharia). I would not be surprised if other so-called Muslim nations in the region would not have done the same. In that case, we may conclude that those nations are not keen on following global human rights laws, not because America is supporting Israel, rather because they implement their own human rights principles.
In short, we now have two human rights decrees; a global one (UDHR) for all nations to abide to, and an Islamic one, which allows for veiling of women, for under-age marriages, for polygamy, for discriminative sexual inheritance laws, for demolition of churches and forbiddance of building new ones, and for discriminatory actions based on sex, race, religious belief, and of course sexual orientation. This is not my say, it’s Islamic law, according to fundamentalists’ interpretation.
Dr. Sherif Meleka, a physician and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, is also a writer in his native Egypt. He is the author of four novels, two collections of short stories, and four books of poetry in Arabic.