A delicate Middle Eastern dance between Realpolitik, human rights
But what example does the current administration give?
As the United States aims to disengage from the Middle East (even if it protects their vital interests in the region), China and Russia seek ways to increase their influence, and when arms sales and economic interests are at stake, human rights are never prioritized high enough. How has Biden’s first year of presidency changed the grim reality in the Middle East, and what will his future battles look like?
After a decade of bloody civil war in which the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad slaughtered half a million Syrian civilians and forced millions more to flee the country, the blue-eyed president is making his comeback. The Emirati embassy in Damascus was reopened in 2018, after which the Jordanians also joined the party. Secured by the Russian and Iranian military, Assad had indicated to the world that he was here to stay and fight until the last
Having no desire or appetite to get involved in messy Syrian affairs, to conquer Damascus, to overthrow Assad and to repeat the mistakes of the Iraq war, the Americans decided to toughen the sanctions against the Assad regime. The Caesar law introduced secondary sanctions against all parties that were willing to cooperate with Assad’s Syria. However, the Jordanians and apparently the Emiratis have been granted a waiver and will continue to do business with the
Assad without bearing the consequences. Anyone can walk around the Syrian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai which proudly displays the country’s ‘achievements’ as if entire Syrian villages and towns had not been wiped from the face of the earth and millions of refugees were not living in exile, struggling to survive.
“The United States does not intend to support efforts to normalize relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or to rehabilitate him until there is irreversible progress towards a non-political solution by Syria, “US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a press conference last week. , and yet it is clear that the United States will not stand in the way of its regional partners who are trying to “normalize” Assad while increasing their diplomatic and trade activities.
Friends with benefits
In recent months, President Biden has only met with several Middle Eastern leaders – Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (The first two had made official visits to Washington, while the meeting with Erdoğan took place in June in Brussels.) Shortly after his election. Biden has designated a few Gulf states, and in particular Saudi Arabia, as “pariah states” and told Egypt that human rights concerns will be at the heart of relations between the United States. and Egypt. The effect of these declarations was not long in being felt. In February Loujain al-Hathloul, a Saudi human rights activist, was released from prison, while Egypt released six activists in July. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Emirati Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, paid visits to the White House. At the same time, human rights activists in the United States and the Middle East criticize Biden for being too lenient towards the leaders of the Middle East who continue to jail TikTok stars, activists of the human rights and critics, and to hide statistics on injured or dead workers in their countries.
It’s not really a new policy. The back-to-back US administration had done business (and sold billions of dollars in arms) to Middle Eastern regimes despite gross human rights violations. Women unable to drive, banned political parties, and imprisoned human rights activists were never sufficient reasons to call off arms sales or degrade relations, even when the United States was the only ruling superpower in the Middle -East.
What are the chances that today, when Washington is seen by many regional players as playing a weak hand and seeking to leave the table, it can move forward and defend human rights? And how will this experience affect other democracies that come under significant pressure and sometimes even threats from non-democratic countries when the issue of human rights is at stake?
The future of human rights in a multipolar world
The Canadian position is a serious and unacceptable violation of the laws and procedures of the Kingdom. In addition to violating the justice of the Kingdom and violating the principle of sovereignty, ”tweeted the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Just two years after the start of the diplomatic and trade war between the two countries, Canada decided to double the amount of arms it sells in Riyadh, reluctant to lose lucrative contracts with other countries. Canada is not alone. Despite pressure from human rights organizations, Western countries continue to sell weapons to unsavory regimes, turning a blind eye to human rights violations. When then US President Barack
Obama decided to flee Egypt after the 2013 coup that ended Mohamed Morsi’s reign, Russia was there to offer its state-of-the-art weapons and fighter jets for sale. An in-depth investigation by 17 major international news organizations claimed that Israeli cyber-company NSO Group had sold spyware used to target journalists, activists and politicians in dozens of countries, including some in the Middle East, while
Israel-made drones played a key role in Azerbaijan’s recent war with Armenia. Many heads of these companies are unofficially saying that if Israel or the United States doesn’t sell these drones or technologies, somebody certainly will.
“There is a gentle dynamic between trying to promote one’s country’s interests and protecting human rights. The promotion of its particular interests often comes at the expense of the protection of human rights. The ability to do both is limited. Those who believe that it is okay to sell advanced weapons to tyrannical regimes point to European countries which also have relations with the worst dictators in the world and sell them
weapons. All these states have signed United Nations declarations on human rights, and if everyone acted in accordance with these principles, we would not be in this situation today, ”said Zehava Galon, president of Zulat, a non-governmental organization that campaigns for equality and human rights. , and former chairman of the left-wing Meretz party in the Israeli parliament. Given the reality of a multipolar world in which many states are competing
influence in global markets, the noble goal of protecting human rights often gives way to other priorities.