On September 26, 2012, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy held an event featuring Anthony Tirado Chase, author of Human Rights, Revolution, and Reform in the Muslim World. The event started with an introduction of Dr. Chase by the moderator, Theodore Piccone. Dr. Chase began his presentation by stressing the need to recognize the reality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), in terms of its plurality and ideological diversity, and the importance of these two factors in matters of human rights. According to Dr. Chase, “There is more to the Arab world than Islamists.” For this reason, the West must move away from the narrative framing the MENA as a uniform region.
Dr. Chase noted that his book attempts to highlight events in the region and the danger the West faces should it ignore the plurality of the MENA. Plurality helps us understand the region, its politics, society, the Arab Spring and its aftermath. The West will not understand “why they hate us,” until close attention is paid to the divisions in the Muslim and Arab World, instead of assuming that there is a unison Muslim or Arab World.
According to Dr. Chase, it is important to acknowledge and understand the people represented by current social and political movements. He said that “the mythical Arab street idea is that mobs tend to be manipulated,” but this has not been the case during the Arab Spring. Dr. Chase assessed that the lack of leadership in these movements created public democratic spaces. He recognized that violent acts led by extremists will always take place – such as the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. However, Dr. Chase reiterated the importance of understating pluralism to deal with these acts more “intelligently” and mitigate the effectiveness of radical groups.
According to Dr. Chase, human rights have always had an enormous impact in framing the political, social, and economic expectations of people and events in the region. In fact, there are more citizens in the MENA involved in politics and supporting democracy than in the West, and the denial of human rights is what has moved people into political action. In his view, more people were concerned with human rights than unemployment and economic issues. For this reason, he believes that leaders with undemocratic tendencies, such as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, will be cautious in their use of force and limiting of human rights because they would risk losing power if they take radical coactive measures. “They are cynics in power,” Dr. Chase said, when referring to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, “but the political and social circumstances force them to act democratically even against their will to retain power.”
During the latter part of his human rights discussion, Dr. Chase focused on the importance of freedom of expression in the processes of strengthening democracy, education and a broader cultural social dynamism in societies. “One cannot separate freedom of expression from other rights, nor can you draw red lines to freedom of expression, as Salafists want to do,” he said. Dr. Chase noted that “societies that loose freedom of expression become closed and static societies because they lose dynamism.”
Dr. Chase concluded by focusing on the future of the MENA. He warned that too much pluralism can also mean a fractured society with no cohesion because the old certainties of Arab nationalism could be lost. On the other hand, he praised the bottom-up nature of the recent revolutions that have become the antithesis of the top-down revolutions of the past. These movements are a “transnational current that is breaking the monopoly on power and information that governments had,” Dr. Chase said. In his view, some future possibilities for these countries are Islamists, Reactionary, and Old Order regimes.