Getting Transition Right - Ending the Diverse Discriminations

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Nov 04, 2013
by Louise Hallman
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Getting Transition Right - Ending the Diverse Discriminations

Many groups face marginalization and discrimination across the region - and not just minorities We must be wary of making sweeping generalizations and dehumanizing individuals, warned Salzburg Global Fellow Hashim Hellyer

“Discrimination and exclusion doesn’t just make people’s lives a hassle, it ends in bloodshed.”

Grim words opened Sunday afternoon’s discussion on the different groups facing marginalization and discrimination in the MENA region as part of the Salzburg Global session 'Getting Transition Right: A Rights-Based Approach towards Diversity and Inclusivity'.

Despite making up roughly half of each of the four countries’ populations, women are treated as poorly as many minorities.

Many are still denied access to education, jobs and opportunities, if not but the state then by society.

In fact, in some countries, such as Yemen, women’s position in society has reduced further. The new constitution states that although international laws (including on human rights) should be observed, women are subject only to Sharia, the same legal system that says a man who kills his unfaithful wife needs only serve one year in prison, yet a woman who kills her unfaithful husband must be put to death.

Islamism in primary education is furthering this undermining of women; as one Fellow pointed out: “Our alphabet now includes ‘H as in Hijab’!”

Also marginalized and often forgotten are migrant workers and stateless people.

Migrant workers in the region are afforded few rights. Although some countries in the region have signed international conventions on migrant workers’ rights, these are all “sending” countries, rather than “receiving” countries. Many have their passports confiscated on entry to only be returned on their exit, making many of them little more than indentured servants.

Stateless people are inherently marginalized in society as their lack of official registration bars their access to such public services as education and health care, as well as excluding them from the new democratic processes introduced since the Arab Spring.

Increases in sectarianism and the resulting sectarian violence has been one of the greatest concerns since the revolutions. Coptic Christians have faced attacks from Muslims. Muslims have been attacked by secularists. But we must be wary of making such sweeping generalizations and groupings, warned one Fellow. It is exactly such behavior that leads to the dehumanization, demonization and in a worryingly high number of cases the death of individuals.

Power has shifted quickly and multiple times since the fall of Mubarak, meaning those that were once the “majority” have quickly found themselves marginalized and treated like the minority once they’ve lost their earlier status. How to map and overcome the divisions and hostilities will give the Fellows of the session much food for thought over the final two days.