The Arab Human Rights Movement
has Achieved many of its Ambitions
The Arab Program for Human Rights Activists (APHRA) is a regional
human rights organization concerned with defending human rights
in the Arab World. The objectives of the organization are similar
to those of Front Line which works on an international level from
its base in Ireland. The APHRA was registered in Cairo in April
1997 as a practical and positive development in collective dialogue
regarding the problems, needs and aspirations of activists working
in human rights in the Arab World. For many years this Program has
served and strengthened the Arab human rights movement in various
Arab countries. The BHRM interviewed the President of the APHRA,
Haggag Nayel and asked him the following questions:
To what extent have you been able to achieve the
ambitions of the APHRA?
The APHRA was established as non-profitable and non-governmental
organization in 1997. During this period, the political and human
rights situation in the Arab World was quite different because the
number of activists was no more than 600. Also, defending human
rights was restricted politically and legally. For example, the
Egyptian law of Private Association and Institutions Act No. 32
of 1964 did not allow civil society organizations to work in the
human rights field. For this reason, the human rights activists
in Egypt resorted to establishing non- profitable companies according
to the civil law in order to avoid the restrictions of this law
which was referred to as Act. 37.
Moreover, the NGOs at that time did not succeed in spreading
a human rights culture in the region. As a result of this, controversies
spread regarding the political backgrounds of human rights activists,
which accused them of following Western agendas. Additionally, several
human rights activists were arrested and detained during this period
in Egypt, Tunis, Morocco and Syria. The program started its practical
activities during a time of great restrictions in the Arab region.
During this period, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Libya had
no human rights organisations whatsoever. There were also some countries
in which the human rights movements worked abroad. For instance,
the Sudanese human rights organisation conducted their activities
from Cairo. Also, during the eighties, the Bahraini Human Rights
Society carried out its activities from Europe and the Bahraini
Committee for Human Rights established its headquarters in Damascus.
In addition to this, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, which
was rejected by all Arab countries, was registered in Cyprus. From
this came the need to establish the APHRA in order to defend activists
wherever they may be and discuss their problems and needs as well
as their requirements and ambitions.
Looking at the situation of the activists in the Arab World-
despite the existence of complications, problems and violations-
it is possible to say that:
-the Arab movement for human rights has achieved a lot of its
aspirations on both quantitative and qualitative levels. On the
quantitative level, the number of organisations concerned with defending
human rights in the Arab World has increased significantly as well
as the number of activists concerned with defending human rights.
On the qualitative level, the Arab movement has accomplished greatly
such as developing a human rights syllabus for schools and universities.
Also, terms such as human rights and civil society have now been
included in the official discourse of Arab countries. The laws of
Arab countries have also permitted the establishment of human rights
organisations and the security forces no longer interfere directly
in their activities. In general, the APHRA has succeeded in achieving
a large part of its ambitions and objectives with the cooperation
and partnership of the Arab human rights movement.
You say that part of your objectives is to create
new mechanisms to protect human rights activists in the Arab World
and support the continuous communication between human rights activists;
in addition to creating an independent voice for expressing their
needs and problems. How far did you succeed in this?
Undoubtedly, the objectives of the APHRA were put forward during
special historical and political circumstances. Hence, these circumstances
affected our visions and objectives during the establishment of
the program. However, we have succeeded in achieving many of our
aspirations. For instance, in 1999 we discussed the issue of female
activists in Morocco and also brought together activists and their
organisations in the Arab World and those working in exile in Paris
in 2001. We also published reports and recommendations and organised
media and legal campaigns, which allowed us to say that we were
behind the return of many exiles to resume their activities in their
Moreover, the Al-Nushata’ magazine- we have published 32 editions
so far- has become an independent voice for all activists’ opinions
and problems despite their diversity. The continuous communication
with the activists is a constant mechanism and objective of the
Program. This is achieved through the use of modern technological
means as well as an enormous network of co-ordinators and correspondence,
which covers the whole Arab region.
There are many national legislations in the Arab
World that need to be made compatible with international conventions
and agreements; especially those which constitute an obstacle to
human rights activists. What is the role of the APHRA in encouraging
the Arab governments to achieve this?
Generally, the legislations in the Arab World need to be changed
in order to agree with the International Bill for Human Rights especially,
the laws relating to civil society organizations, the media, publications,
state security, martial law, penal codes and political parties.
Due to the importance of this issue, it has always been at the
centre of the attention of the APHRA since its establishment. The
APHRA is in the process of releasing a series of reports to discuss
this subject, seven of which have already been published and discussed
the legislations in: Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Bahrain and Yemen. This
is in addition to publishing the first edition of Railings, which
discusses the Arab laws and regulations that restrict civil and
political rights in the Arab World. The second edition of Railings,
which is still under printing, tackles laws and regulations that
limit or restrict the economic, social and cultural rights in the
Arab World . Moreover, the ‘urgent statement’ method is used by
the Program as an active and quick mechanism constantly throws the
light on one of the legal articles, which need to be changed or
amended in the Arab countries. The APHRA organised a comprehensive
project for two years entitled ‘Together for the Elimination of
Laws and Special Courts’ in Egypt which resulted in the abolishment
of some military orders as well the State Security Law of 1980 that
was established in accordance to Law No. 105.
Most reports issued by international human rights
organisations criticise the human rights situation in the region.
Is there a plan by the APHRA, with the cooperation of Arab human
rights organisations and governments, to improve the human rights
We don’t believe that the reports are criticising human rights
in the region. The reports describe the reality of human rights
and hence it seems that they are criticising the governments. The
real problem lies in the fact that security forces are given wide
authority in the Arab World. Therefore, we find that most human
rights reports always end with recommendations directed at governments
in order to develop human rights. The main objective of all human
rights organisations is to develop human rights in the region
The APHRA cooperates with organisations and sometimes with ministries
on several human rights projects. For example, we have organised
a training project on the fair trial standards in Egypt, Bahrain
and Morocco. The Bahrain Ministry of Justice launched this project
and read the opening speech. We have no objection to cooperating
with Arab governments as long as this will promote and improve human
rights. APHRA has an ambitious project since 2005 entitled ‘Towards
more Effective Roles for Activists in Social Issues’. The APHRA
has been working on the issue of education in Egypt in order to
improve the quality of educational products. This is in addition
to increasing the role of civil society organisations in the partnerships
of administering education in 2009-2011. Also, the APHRA has been
working towards combating corruption in Egypt and emphasising the
role of human rights organisations in this issue since 2008. The
APHRA is also working on a project to support the decentralisation
of councils. The strategic plan is available and is being implemented
in steps and phases for assessment and amendment purposes.
The Arab human rights organisations are facing many
difficulties and problems. Can you tell us about the difficulties
and problems that have affected your performance?
The answer is quite difficult because we really did not have
many problems and obstacles that stopped us from achieving our goals.
This does not mean that our work is completely free of problems.
It is possible to summarise our difficulties in the following:
Local funding for human rights activities is almost non-existent
in the region and most organisations depend on foreign funding for
their human rights and development projects. Sometimes, the number
of projects decreases due to the lack of funding, which affects
our cause and objectives negatively.
Despite the lack of funding, we in the APHRA are able to maintain
the continuation of certain activities such as: our magazine Al-
Nushata’, the urgent statement and the regional reports concerning
Legal problems concerning funding:
The response of the government to funding requests is always
delayed. According to Egyptian law Article 17, organisations are
prohibited from receiving any funding from a foreign body, whether
it is based in or outside Egypt, without the prior permission of
the Ministry of Social Affairs. It is also prohibited to send any
donation without prior permission- excluding books, newsletters,
art and science magazines. For this reason, a delay in any funding
request for more than six months threatens our activities. This
has been the case over the last two years.
Problems relating to activities:
Sometimes governments have political calculations regarding specific
human rights activities. Therefore, at times it forces hotels and
clubs in which the activities take place to cancel their bookings.
The APHRA has encountered similar problems during the project ‘Together
to Save Darfur’ when the Egyptian Government cancelled the project
in the first quarter of this year due to the Sudanese elections.
This was based on the excuse that the project could strain relations
with the Sudanese Government.
Currently there are many human rights organisations
in all the Arab countries, and the APHRA is no longer alone in the
region. What role do you play and what distinguishes you from international,
Arab and regional organisations?
It is good that there are many human rights organisations in
the Arab World and we hope to see even more in each Arab country.
As this will improve the situation in the region and expand the
foundation of the APHRA which aims to communicate with, and defend,
human rights activists. However, a closer look at the new established
human rights organisations during the last ten years shows that
none of them is specifically concerned with defending human rights
activists. For they are all concerned with human rights in general
or specialise in defending a specific group of people or a specific
right. Therefore, the APHRA is the only Arab institution in the
region which is specialised in defending human rights activists
in the Arab World.