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What are human rights?

Mohammed Al Shaikh

Published: Updated:

The Arab Spring has failed, along with the so-called “political Islam” movements, spearheaded by the Muslim Brotherhood. I do not believe that the once-sweeping Islamized movement is still as strong as it was before its fiasco during the Arab Spring. Moreover, most Arabs are now completely convinced of its weaknesses. They became aware of the fact that it is mere delusions and wishful thinking. Like many other observers and analysts, I do not expect that the movement can be rekindled given its abject and utter failure, which no one can deny any more expect those with ulterior ideological motives. Instead, some have recently resorted to brandishing the “human rights first” banner in lieu of “Islam is the solution.” But the question that unfailingly arises is, what are human rights in our region, and are they truly curtailed or violated?

During its conflict with the eastern socialist system, led by USSR, the West used this same demand to give themselves an excuse to interfere in the internal affairs of the states that made up the eastern camp. Those who championed this rightful cause were only using it as an excuse for their interference, which could very well lead to destructive, even obliterating, civil wars, as is the case today in Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

A student walks along a damaged street in the town of Kafr Batna, in eastern Ghouta, Syria. (File Photo: Reuters)
A student walks along a damaged street in the town of Kafr Batna, in eastern Ghouta, Syria. (File Photo: Reuters)

In the Gulf, some have started to raise the banner of “human rights” against their governments, which stood firm against that desperate “spring.” For some unknown, inexplicable reason, they put atop their list of human rights demands the freedom of expression. One must stop here to ask, do human rights only denote the freedom of expression and nothing else? I doubt that any sane, objective person would prioritize the right to any freedom, particularly the freedom of expression, over any of the primary rights. Primary rights include the rights to security, to access life-saving medical services, to an adequate standard of living, to a roof over their head, to an education and a chance at self-development, to work and earn a living, and to justice -- especially judicial justice. Surely, if these primary rights were to clash with secondary rights, such as freedom of expression, the only logical and reasonable result would be to give the priority to primary rights over secondary rights.

The right to any freedom must not be used as an excuse to curtail other rights. Freedom needs, above all, a certain level of awareness, social responsibility, and maturity. Thus, people who are less aware and less mature do not necessarily adopt such modern concepts, and this is where the crux of the matter lies. Awareness, maturity, and belief in intellectual pluralism are core foundations for the right to freedom of expression. Besides, since one person's freedom ends where another's begins, we must pose the question, do our peoples have this intellectual and moral structure?

In short, we must not give precedence to the rights that can be postponed over the rights upon which societies are built.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi outlet Al-Jazirah.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.