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Human Rights and Peace in the Middle East
[Analysis] Peace will prevail when economic, social and cultural rights are granted to all
Asmael Mersham (mersham28)     Print Article 
Published 2008-10-15 13:42 (KST)   

The Middle East region is very different in many different ways and the characteristics of the conflicts, too, are different.

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  • the Israel and "Occupied Territories" (Palestine) issue

  • the conflict between Hamas and the Fatah; the Iraq conflict

  • the conflict in Afghanistan

  • conflicts within Saudi Arabia

  • the security concerns, especially the nuclear threat, that Ahmadinajad's Iran poses

  • the Kurdish situation with serious discrimination from Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq with very limited support from any powers

  • the Lebanon conflict

  • the rise of Islamic militancy in Egypt and Algeria

  • the suppression of any opposition in Saudi Arabia and most of Middle East countries

  • the spread of fundamentalist Islam -- Wahabbi style -- and the attempt to suppress any modern civil secular democratic voices in the Middle East region

  • and not to forget the problems in Sudan where civilians are being massacred in Darfur by the government and the military.

    Made up of a population of about 465,263,000 (Est.2008) peoples from amongst 23 countries, the Middle East today presents a mosaic of various interests and cultures all mingling together to find their rightful place under the sun. Most of these countries are dependent on agriculture, natural resources (gas and oil) and tourism for their economies, while trade and transportation too contributes to the overall development process of the region.

    As far as religion is concerned, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are practiced by most of the people residing in these countries. Islam is the predominant faith in the Middle East (including the Arab world) while "Christian Arabs" are a small minority.

    However, Islam is at the center of all social order and of the moral and intellectual values of Middle Eastern Muslims. In fact, it is the official religion in most Arab and Islamic countries. Considering Arabism and Islam as synonyms embodies discrimination against various ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs.

    The Middle East is also about ethnicities of different shades and kinds and this has to be understood to grasp the cultures and the people of this very diverse region. It is perhaps these ethnicities that have led to the present situation of conflict in the region which has also in many ways contributed to the deepening hatred towards each other between people of different communities. There are a wide variety of ethnic or religious communities. Suffice it to call attention to the following sects and groups: Alawis, Armenians, Assyrians or Nestorians, Bahais, Benei Israel, Christian Arabs, Chaldeans, Circassians, Copts, Druzes, Falashas, Karaites, Kurds, Mandaeans, Messianic Jews, Maronites, Muslim Brothers, Netorei Karta, Samaritans, Shiites and Yezidis. There are also other groups like the Berbers and the Turkomans.

    The cause of all the conflicts and social strife in Middle Eastern countries is often linked to poor education and literacy levels. According to an estimate (2007) 70 percent of people were found to be illiterate. Only a meager 2.5 percent use the Internet in approximately 14 countries.

    During their meeting in Cairo on Feb. 12, Arab ministers of information adopted "Principles for Organizing Satellite Broadcast and Television Transmission and Reception in the Arab Region."

    The document, introduced by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, calls on the regulatory bodies in Arab League member states to ensure that satellite channels broadcasting from their jurisdictions do not "negatively affect social peace, national unity, public order, and public morals" or "defame leaders, or national and religious symbols [of other Arab states]."

    Only Qatar and Lebanon publicly opposed the document and its proposed restrictions.

    The assortment of cultures and people in the Arab world is exemplified by the Kurds, who are minorities and are denied their culture and economic and political rights. They are prohibited to use their own land, properties and their right to proper education is also often violated by the suppressive regimes that have ruled the different countries the land of Kurd Minority.

    Kurds have been forcibly evicted to other parts of the country which has led to unwanted demographic changes. Incidentally these are all part of an ethnic cleansing policy and cultural genocide. In the Middle East most Kurdish speaking people have faced marginalization and discrimination, decades of social injustice and domestic conflicts and international wars.

    The present situation is all about suffering of ordinary people who are discriminated and denied their economic and social rights. It is a common belief that for decades change from inside was impossible and when "change" came from outside and by force, it was about alteration of the leadership only without any change in social, political and economic status of the ordinary people.

    Most of the changes catered to the needs of the privileged and the ruling elites. There is potential for another round of ethnic conflict in Iraq after the sectarian conflict came close to end. This is because the roots of decades of injustice and conflicts have not been addressed properly as yet.

    The other factors which could contribute to a larger scale violence are the on-going repression of Kurds minority in Turkey, Iran and Syria, Iranian military shelling from time to time Iraq (Kurdish) villages on the border, Turkish Air Force bombarding Iraq-Kurdish territory and sometimes crossed the border to the North of Iraq for launching military offensives against the "rebels" for this problem will never be ended and solved through gun and wars but by recognizing and protecting all peoples rights, so all can living together peacefully.

    This causes the region to be in continuous unrest. From fear of becoming victims of the attacks villagers escape from their villages to far off places and live as refugees.

    All these factors have led to excessive violations of human rights of the ordinary people living in this region. Children today wait to see when their ancestral and family land and the farms would be returned to them so that they can play freely and also take part in farming, an activity that most children enjoy.

    Therefore to see, respect and treat those who you regard as your enemy as equal as your self, it is important to learn about different cultures and their sensitivities. It is also important to respect others' culture, harmonize and promote education of peace values and principles, share wealth and power equally among citizens without discrimination, work for separation of religion from the State, create awareness amongst the people of their rights through education and free media, empower people to participate in decision making.


    Most regimes in Middle East are authoritarian, if not dictatorships, ruling for decades by fear or reward. The elites who rule in Middle East countries used religious faith with ideology of nationalism for blinding people and controlling them. The main weakness of civil society in Middle East has been the lack of networks with the "civil society networks or groups" from Asia for (coexisting with) different cultures.

    It is another thing and subject to interpretation that some regard the Middle East as not part of Asia. The support from Western powers for the ruling elites is clearly and solely to cater to some self-interest through exploitation of natural resources like oil, etc.

    On the contrary, while extending support in the name of fighting suppressive and authoritative regimes, these same powers turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and tyrant regimes in the region. Also from outside, the conflicts in the Middle East all look different, but the real cause root is related to human rights abuses.

    Peace will prevail when economic, social and cultural rights are granted to all and protected by all.

  • ©2008 OhmyNews
    Asmael Mersham was born in Iraq and majored in veterinary science at Baghdad University, graduating in 1988. He has lived in Korea since 1995 and is now a Korean citizen. Since 2003, he has worked as an interpreter and is now a student at MAINS (MA in inter-Asia NGO studies) at Sungkonghoe University, Seoul.
    Other articles by reporter Asmael Mersham

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