Study Group: Human Rights Activism in the Arab Region: What Next?


Wednesday, February 15, 2017, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


L-324 Fainsod Room

MEI-Carr Center Joint Study Group | Spring 2017

Fateh Azzam, former director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University in Beirut, will join MEI and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to lead a four-session study group during spring 2017 on the challenges and prospects for the human rights movement in the Arab region in the context of armed conflict and authoritarianism.


The lack of enjoyment of civil, political, social and economic rights accounted in large part for the ‘revolutionary’ explosions that have shaken the Arab region since January 2011. Despite the spark of hope that these revolts ignited, their outcome has been seriously distressing. Some countries have seen a retrenchment of repressive government and a return to the so-called ‘deep state,’ while others have descended into civil war and chaos leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and the worst refugee crisis and humanitarian disaster in recent memory.

The current situation in the Arab region poses massive challenges before the human rights movement there and internationally. It raises questions on the relevance of human rights activism in such an environment and what new directions the human rights movement can take.

The proposed study group aims to initiate an analytical examination of those questions. It will meet four times in the course of the Spring 2017 semester to discuss the following topics, each of which to be contextualized within the Arab Region but drawing on experiences and lessons from other regions in the world.


Applications are now closed. If you are interested in participating but were not able to apply, please email


*All session will meet from 4-6pm in Fainsod Room, Littauer Building, Room 324.

Session 1 - Wednesday February 15:  The moral, legal and political discourses of human rights. Can we say that human rights debates can be disaggregated into moral/cultural/religious, legal, and political discourses? Are those discourses in conflict? Does one supersede the others? In the Arab region, are the obstacles and challenges centered more in one than the other two? Does this multiplicity of discourses befuddle human rights advocacy in the region (or others) or can they be integrated?

Session 2 - Wednesday March 8: Overview of human rights issues and practice in the context of conflict, authoritarianism and other challenges. What have been the main human rights challenges in the Arab region? How have human rights actors responded to them? How have those challenges – and human rights practice – changed post 2011? Can human rights advocacy be relevant and/or sustained in the context of armed conflict?

Session 3 – Wednesday March 29: The local and the global – Role of human rights networks and cooperation. What levels of formal and informal cooperation exist at the national, regional and international levels? Do regional and international human rights mechanisms continue to be relevant and what have been the challenges of accessing them? How can they be encouraged or sustained? Has social media strengthened or diluted the human rights movement, regionally or globally?

Session 4 - Wednesday April 12: Viability of a social movement approach to human rights. Can the multiplicity of human rights actors working in legal defense, human rights education, political advocacy, research and analysis be subsumed within a social movement framework? Are there transferable examples of such a movement? What are the advantages and pitfalls of digital activism within such a framework?