Other View: The Arab world's conspiracy of dictators helps mask egregious rights abuses
What a sad statement on how far the Arab world has retreated from the inspirational days of the Arab Spring uprisings 12 years ago.
What happens way over in the Arab world almost always has an impact here in tangible ways, whether it’s Syrian refugees amassing at the border or setting up residence in St. Louis, or Saudi Arabia teaming with Russia to make global oil prices skyrocket. A lot of readers might have ignored last week’s Arab League summit, but it’s exactly in that arena where the region’s future course is being set. The summit was particularly noteworthy, and not in a good way, for the way the Arab world’s most notorious human rights abusers welcomed fellow abuser Syria back into the fold.
The summit offered no heady commitments to improve human rights. Instead, leaders kissed and forgave mass-murdering Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, deliberately ignoring the blood on his hands.
That’s because the most prominent Arab leaders in the room have their own egregious abuses to hide. Having Assad in the room provided a useful contrast for other Arab dictators to show the world how they’re really not so bad after all. Saudi Arabia is particularly desperate to exploit that contrast, still having failed to fully account for the 2018 murder and dismemberment of Washington Post opinion writer Jamal Khashoggi. His death sentence was for the crime of publicly criticizing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Saudis are doing everything in their power to provide distractions from this murder, which U.S. intelligence says was ordered by the crown prince. They tried “sports-washing,” by sponsoring international sporting events and funding a breakaway professional golf tour, the LIV, to compete against the PGA, paying tens of millions of dollars to bribe major golfers into joining. At last week’s summit, they even tried Ukraine-washing by inviting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to attend.
Also welcoming Syria back is Egypt, whose military overthrew a democratically elected leader and threw thousands of pro-democracy activists into jail, where they were tortured and many were executed following the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Journalists are among those arrested for merely reporting the facts of government oppression. Amnesty International reported in 2022 that “security forces arbitrarily arrested at least 11 journalists for their work or critical views. At least 26 journalists remained arbitrarily detained following convictions or pending investigations into accusations of ‘spreading false news,’ ‘misusing social media’ and/or ‘terrorism.’”
Bad as all this might seem, it pales in comparison to Assad’s deployment of chemical weapons against his own people along with mass arrests, torture and disappearances. He learned at the feet of the master: His father, Hafez al-Assad, reportedly massacred more than 10,000 people in the city of Hama during a 1982 siege.
What a sad statement on how far the Arab world has retreated from the inspirational days of the Arab Spring uprisings 12 years ago. It’s not that the pro-democracy, pro-rights movement has fizzled. Rather, it’s been clubbed to death by a conspiracy of dictators.
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