Middle East Press Freedom: Awaiting Political Change

Reporters Without Borders has issued its annual report about press freedom in the world, Press Freedom Index 2008. The results came as usual in terms of the Middle East region.

The report supports my suggestion that the Middle East is one of the worst regions, if not the worse, in the world as regards freedom of expression, in general, and freedom of the press in particular.

As I always say, this region still lives the era of the eastern campaign of former Soviet Union under the totalitarian system or the authoritarian system at best. Although the world has significantly changed after the Cold War, this change has stopped at the Middle East's borders. This situation becomes persistent, I am afraid.

It is time now to declare the failure of various attempts to change the situation of repression as regards freedom of expression in the Middle East. Europeans tried in 1990s through Barcelona Process and completely failed. Americans tried in 2000s and achieved minor improvements while the basic system controlling this question did not change.

The failure of these attempts over a little bit less than two decades, in my opinion, is due to unpoliticizing the question. Those previous attempts kept the question at the rights level while the region's ruling regimes simply do not care about the entire public rights and freedoms question.

Therefore, it is time to take this question to the political level. I am afraid that it would be no movement and improvement on this question without tackling it politically after considering it as a political affair and deploying political means in this regard.

Hence, it is time to all concerned parties in the world to change the approach for achieving the goal of normalizing the situation in the Middle East in terms of freedom of expression, and eliminate this aggression against civilization. This is a necessity for more stable diverse and civilized world, and for better and more prosperous international relations, and even international politics.

Back to the report, following are some highlights concerning the Middle East from the report.

"The same six Middle East champions of repression that are near the bottom of the world press freedom index every year have confirmed their status this year again. Free expression continues to be no more than a dream in Iraq (158th), Syria (159th), Libya (160th), Saudi Arabia (161st), the Palestinian Territories (163rd) and Iran (166th). Journalists are subjected to relentless censorship and in some cases incredible violence in these countries. The Palestinian Territories have never before fallen so far in a year. The power struggle between the main factions has taken a disastrous toll on press freedom. The political split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank has been accompanied by a division of the media. The Israeli military’s responsibility for the death of a Palestinian cameraman employed by Reuters in April and the impunity granted to the soldier who fired the fatal shell account for Israel’s fall (149th outside its own territory) in the ranking.

In the Maghreb, Morocco (122nd) continues the fall it began two years ago. The decline in relations between government and press increased significantly with the jailing of journalist Mostapha Hurmatallah. A series of prosecutions of journalists and Internet users has shown that press freedom in Morocco stops at the doors of the royal palace.

Lebanon (66th) has risen 30 places as no journalist was on the list of victims of this year’s bombings. The Hezbollah-orchestrated offensive against certain media affiliated to the anti-Syrian opposition left no victims and trigged a wave of indignation in Lebanese society".

Unchanging hells: "In Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s Tunisia (143rd), Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya (160rd), Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus (154th), Bashar el-Assad’s Syria (159e) and Teodoro Obiang Nguema’s Equatorial Guinea (156th), the leader’s ubiquitous portrait on the streets and front pages of the newspapers is enough to dispel any doubt about the lack of press freedom. Other dictatorships do without a personality cult but are just as suffocating. Nothing is possible in Laos (164th) or Saudi Arabia (161st) if it does not accord with government policy".

"The international community, including the European Union, endlessly repeats that the only solution continues to be “dialogue.” But dialogue has clearly had little success and even the most authoritarian governments are still able to ignore remonstrations without risking any repercussions other than the inconsequential displeasure of the occasional diplomat".

"Online repression also exposes these tenacious taboos. In Egypt (146th), demonstrations launched online shook the capital and alarmed the government, which now regards every Internet user as a potential danger. The use of Internet filtering is growing by the year and the most repressive governments do not hesitate to jail bloggers. While China still leads the “Internet black hole” ranking worldwide, deploying considerable technical resources to control Internet users, Syria (159th) is the Middle-East champion in cyber-repression. Internet surveillance is so thorough there that even the least criticism posted online is sooner or later followed by arrest".


Related material:

- The Right to Online Freedom


Nassim Yaziji's Neo-Internationalism

Nassim Yaziji's Articles



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