In early April 1983, a group of 35 Arab intellectuals, academicians, professionals and political activists met at the Hammamat cultural center in Tunis to discuss the crisis of human rights and democratic freedoms in the Arab world. No officials or representatives of any Arab government attended, and the gathering was not sponsored by any government or political organization.
The Hammamat group issued the accompanying declaration, and set up a continuations committee to 1) contact groups in the Arab countries concerned with issues of human rights and democracy; 2) draw up a legal framework for the establishment of a permanent monitoring committee; and 3) coordinate with the Beirut-based Center for Arab Unity Studies a larger conference on the crisis of democracy in the Arab world. The organizers attempted to secure an Arab country for the site of their second meeting, but the governments of Egypt, Kuwait and Jordan all refused to allow it in their capitals.
A second meeting took place in Limassol, Cyprus, on December 1 and 2, 1983, immediately following the Center for Arab Unity Studies conference there. Some 70 individuals, including many of those who met at Hammamat and representing a wide spectrum of political tendencies, were present. The December meeting set up a permanent Organization for the Protection of Human Rights in the Arab World to monitor human rights violations. They selected a 14-member board of trustees composed of individuals from Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Morocco, Sudan, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia and Palestine. The group set as its immediate priority a campaign for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in the Arab states. The organization’s secretariat will operate initially out of Cairo. The organization will be financed entirely from non-governmental private contributions.
The last 30 years have witnessed the complete disappearance of democratic freedoms in the Arab world. This suppression of democracy has been justified in various ways and under different pretexts. It sometimes was justified by the need to build socialism and to pursue economic development, sometimes by the need to establish Arab unity, and at other times by the requirements of defending independence and in the name of struggle against Israel, when in fact none of these objectives could be achieved without democracy.
Democracy and the fundamental freedoms it implies are not merely means of achieving vital goals, but constitute a fundamental goal in themselves. Freedom is a supreme value for all Arabs because they are deprived of it. The Arab people are deprived of the freedom of thought and expression, of the right to participate in decision making; they are exposed to imprisonment, torture and murder — including collective murder; their honor is trampled upon, their highest values violated; and silence and submission are imposed upon them everywhere. The Arab people are today desperate and without hope, without faith in themselves or in their regimes.
We [the participants in the Hammamat conference] demand that all political prisoners in the Arab countries be released or immediately brought to trial. We demand that all extra-legal courts and emergency regulations be abolished and that the illegal activities of the secret police be terminated.
We demand that all Arab governments acknowledge the human rights and freedoms specified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — above all the rights of equality among citizens regardless of religion, race or ethnic origin. In focusing on political repression, we do not overlook social and cultural repression exercised on all levels — in the family, in the school, in the work place, in religion and in labor unions: everywhere the link between power and responsibility is lacking, and reasonable accountability is nowhere to be found.
Authority in the Arab countries is today based on intimidation, subjugation and cooptation. This has led to confusion in values and standards, to the absence of critical thought, to the decline of reason. Thus the single, closed viewpoint has dominated, putting an end to intellectual and political diversity and rendering mass movements and popular organizations useless and impotent. Cultural and intellectual life, as a result, have been effectively destroyed in the Arab world.
The participants in this conference strongly emphasize the necessity of securing basic human rights for the Arab people, particularly the rights of individual freedom and personal belief, of freedom of thought and expression, and of political participation, including the right to form political organizations and workers’ unions. We also stress the need to insure the rights of women and minorities, and to safeguard the independence of the judiciary.
The conference participants underscore the need to allow a democratic society to emerge in all Arab countries, a democracy rooted in popular participation, expressed in freely formed political parties, and based in sovereign law and the power of the people, the only true source of power and legitimacy, to elect their own representatives.
—Hammamat, April 3, 1983[Signed by] Ibrahim Ibrahim, Abbas Baydoun, Adonis, Afaf Mahfouz, Ahmad Bahaeddin, Fatma Mernissi, Ahmad Higazi, Kamal Abu Dib, Amal Rassam, Kamal Boullata, Burhan Ghalioun, Mohammed Arkoun, Bassam Tibi, Mohammed Hallaj, Tewfik Bakkar, George Abed, Mohammed Hilmi Murad, Hassan el-Ibrahim, Mohammed Rabia, Hassan Haddad, Al-Baki Hermassi, Halim Barakat, Mehdi Amil, Khaldun al-Naqib, Musa Wahbeh, Khaireddin Hasib, Nassif Nassar, Radwan Hawatmeh, Naseer Aruri, Saadeddin Ibrahim, Nawal Sadawi, Samih Farsoun, Hisham Dgait, Al-Taher Labib, Hisham Sharabi