Human Rights in the Muslim World: Countries

Figure 1.--.

Muslim authors and left-wing voices in the West have criticized Israel or human rights violations. In addition to assessing human rights in Israel, it seems reasonable to assess the human rights record of Muslim countries. Here the Arab countries are of special interest because of the Isreali-Arab conflict. But other Muslim countries also criticize Israel so a look at the human rights record of those countries are also of interest. The Middle East streaches from Iran west to Morocco and includes about 20 different countries, depending on just how it is defined. The countries involved are all countries with a Muslim majority, except for Israel. In most cases there are only small Christian minorities, with the exception of Lebanon and Sudan that have a larger Christian minority. Several of the countries also have ethnic minorities (Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Turkey). Whle most of the countries are largely Muslim, there are substantial political differences. There are only two democracies (Israel and Turkey). The other countries range from authoritarian regimes, many with monarchies, to the theocratic regime in Iran. There are other Muslim countries in South, Central, and Southeast Asia. Assessing all of these countries is a very difficult undertaking. We welcome reader input helping us to understand the human rights situation in their country.


Afghanistan is a very conservative Muslim country that has had a history of rule by repressive governments ranging from a secular Communist dictatorship to the stern theocratic Taliban government. The country's isolation in central Asia mens that it is almost medeival in cultyral terms. The country since the overthrow of the Taliban conducted its first reasonably free, democratic election (2004). Hamid Karzai was elected president. Afghanistan's human rights record is poor, in large measure due to the weakness of the new central government and adeeply conservative Muslim culture. Other problems include a bloody insurgency, cotinuing support for the Tliban, drug traficing, corruption, war lordism, and the economic wreckage of 20 years of civil war. The Afghan Government is attempting to expand its authority from Kabul to provincial centers. Some areas are controlled by war lords (regional commanders) and the Taliban. Insurgents are being sheltered and supprted by Islamicist groups in neighbiring Pakistan.


Algeria is a multi-party republic based on a constitution and with a presidential governmental system. The president is elected by popular vote to a 5-year term. He has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members, as well as the prime minister. After a long period of military government, Algeria finally held a democratic election (2004). Since that election, the Government has gradually trengthened civilian rule and control over the military. Algeria held its first democratic, contested presidential elections (April 2004). There are reports on workers' rights. The Algerian Government has been criticised for restrictions on civil liberties--freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. Thre are reports of discrimination against women. The Government has made some effort to address this problem, but faces a sociyey in which discrimination against women is firmly rooted in the Islamic tradition. There have also been reports of limits on religious freedom. here are reports of governmental coruption lack of government transparency. The Government has launched an extensive crackdown on corruption. Some offivials have been found guilty of corruption related offenses and sentenced to prison terms. Corruption remains, however, a serious problem. Algerian security forces acted independently of government authority. Human rights groups have expressed considerable concern over the operations of the security forces. Complaints include the failure to account for disappearances, abuse and torture of detainees, arbitrary arrest, and prolonged pretrial detention. Many of these reports are associated with government efforts to deal with a fundamentalist Islamic insurgency using terrotist attacks of astonishing barbarity. Observers report that the Algerian Government has made progress in reducing abuses attributed to the security forces. Human rights groups criticise the Algerian judicial system for a lack of independence. There are also concerns over fair and speedy trials. Algeria has experienced extensive civil strife and especially vicious terrorism. Terrorist have groups committed numerous, serious abuses. Security force operations seem to be weakening the insurgency and casualties from terrorist attacks have been declining, although attacks continue.



Bangladesh is a modern creation, but Bengal has along history. It was was probably the wealthiest part of the subcontinent up till the 16th century. Today it is one of the poorest countries in the world. When Briritain gave India its independence. Bengal became East Pakistan in political union with West Pakistan. Gradually Bengali nationalism exerted itself, especialy when politically dominant West Pakistan attemoted to make Urdu the national language. The Pakistani Army attemoted to reverse an election won by Bengali nationalists. A horific 11-day war ensued in which the Indian Army intervened. The result was an independent Bangladesh (1971). The country inherited secular institutions from Britain which are now threatened by Islamic fundamentalists. Authors who are seemed as criticizing Islam are threatened and even procecuted by the government. Religiously inspired attacks occur. Of particular concern has been women's rights. A particularly well publicized incident has been pressure bring placed on a popular 13-year old TV star to stop her schooling and force her to marry.


Egypt because of its large population is the most influential Arab country. Egyptian governments since the over throw of King Farouk have been installed an maintained in power by the Egyptian Army. There are many serious abuses of human rights in Egypt. The problems arise from Goverment actions, the fundamentalis Muslim brotherhood desiring to create an Islamic state, and a deeply conservative society stronly influenced by principles of Islamic law which descriminate against minority groups and women. The Government has been criticized by international groups for its actions both against the democratic opposition and the Muslim brotherhood. While Army rule under President Mubarack is not democratic, it is to a degree secular. It is faced by a resourceful challenge from the Muslim Brotherhood which is neither democratic or secular. The Brotherhood has as in other countries attempted to seize power by force. They attempted to assasinate President Nasser and suceeded in assasinating President Sadat. Currently the Brotherhood claims to be attempting to gain power through cobstitutional means. While the Brotherhood decries the denial of democratic rights and free speech, there is little liklihood that they would institute a democratic government if they managed to seize power. The question for those interested in civil rights is how to assess an authoritarian governments and its suppression of human rights to prevent Islamic fundamentalists from estanlishining a theocracy, especially when the government also supresses the democratic opposition.


The Islamic Republic of Iran is one of the worst abusers of human rights in the Middle East. The violation of basic human rights is a policy being persued systematically by the Iranian Governent to stifel dissent in Iran. This is in large measure because the Mullah-dominted regime has sought to control personal behavior beyond that of most Middle Eastern countries. The country has elections, but this is virtually the only aspect of a democratic political system, and the voters can only vote for candidates approved by Islamic mullas. Other elements of a democratic system such as a free press, minority rights, and an independent judiciary are absent. There is virtually no limits on the police in Iran. Iranian sources report brutal attacks by Iranian police and auxileries on students. There are serious constraints on religious freedom. Women have been hanged for teaching Sunday school and houses of worshop have been destroyed. The Baha’i minority has been targeted by the regime. Children have been maimed for minor infractions of the strict Sharia legal code enforced by the Mullas. Children are also subject to capital punishment and Iran leads the world in the execution of children. Capital punishment is an important part of the legal system. And there are several offenses covering personal conduct that are punishable by death. Woman are subjected to a strict dress code and those who violate the code are brutalized. There are still public stonings for women found guilty of adultry. Homosexuality is considered a grave sin and people found guilty of homosexual acts are pubically hanged, including teenagers.


One of the greatest violators of human rights was Saddam Hussein during his nd the Bath Party's more than two decade rule in Iraq. Opposition political parties were destoyed. The independent judicary brought under his total control. The press totlly controlled by Saddam. Ethnic minorities like the Kurds and Marash Arabs supressed, in somne cases with poison gas.


Israel is one of the most open democratic countries in the world. Israel is virtually the only democracy in the Middle East. There are multi-party elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, and protection for minority rights. Non-Jews in Israel, including Arabs, enjoy the right to vote. This is the right that many Middle-Eastern people do not have. Many Middle-Eastern countries do not have elections or have rigged elections. Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East where Arab women are allowed to vote. Arabs hold 8 seats in the 120-seat Isreali Knesset. Elections are only one aspect of democracy. Another is an indeopendent judiciary. There are numerous instances in which Arabs in Isrrael have won court cases. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot allocate land based on religion or ethnicity, and may not prevent Arab citizens from living wherever they choose (2002). The Supreme Court has also ruled on the path of the West Bank Security Fence (2007). All Women in Israel enjoy long established equal rights. While a Jewish state, there is a level of religious pluralism unlike anywhere else in the Middle East. Israel has a population of of 6.7 million, of which about 1.3 million (20 percent) are not Jewish. There are about 1.1 million Muslims, 0.1 million Christians, and 0.1 million Druze. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze, and Bahai are free to pracice their religion. Or also free not to practice a religion. Arabic is an official language in Israel. Israel has one of the best educatinal systems in the world and the best in the Middle-East. There are over 300,000 Arab children attending Israeli schools. When Israel was founded there was one Arab highschool in all of Palestine. Now thhere are hundreds of Aran primay and secondary scchools. Arab children in Israel receive te finest education offered any where in the Middle East. There is also a toleration of homosexuals in Israel unlike any where else in the Middle East. The Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem is te only one tolerated in the Middle East. There is only one legal difference between Jewish and Arab citizens and that concerns the military. Israel does not require Arabs to serve in the military. This stems from the concern about their loyalty. But it also means that Arab Isrealis are not forced to fight against the Arabs in the hostile states surrounding Israel. Some Arabs have volunteered to serve in the military. Bedouins have volunteered for paratroop forces. Military service is compulsory for the Druze and Circassian Christian communities.


The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with the king granted wide executive authority. It is currently ruled by King Abdullah II bin Hussein. The Constitution concentrates executive and legislative authority in the King. Jordanian citizens do not have the right to change their government, but citizens do participate in the political system through their elected representatives to Parliament to a greater degree than is common in the region. The Jordanian economy is largely based on foreign assistance, remittances, exports of minerals and various manufactured goods, and tourism. The Government in recent years has moved to implement market-based reforms. There have been steps toward deregulation, privatization of state owned companies, trade liberalization, and opening the economy to foreign investment. The country faces serious economic problems. Unemployment is very high and economic growth is not keeping pace with population growth. Poverty is still severe, especially in rural areas. Major concerns are limited water and energy resources. There are reports of violence against women and a range of restrictions on women's rights. Societal discrimination against women persisted. "Honor" crimes continue. The Government imposes some limits on freedom of religion. There is both official and societal discrimination against adherents of unrecognized religions. The Jordanian Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The monarchy, however, exerts considerablr influence. The security forces have committed some human rights abuses. Abuses of the public security forces have to be viewed in the context of attacks on the monarchy by Palestinian and extremist Islamic factions. Child abuse is a continuing problem. There is descrimination against Palestinians. This is an especually difficult problem in Jordon.


Kuwaiti officials after the liberation of their country by an international coalition led by the United States (1991) pledged major reforms in human rights. Tere have, howeverm , been oly minor improvements. Some sources report continued human rghts abuses. Kuwait after liberation ratified five major human rights treaties. The country has not implement reforms to apply these commitments in law or practice. There are reports of extrajudicial execution, torture, and "disappearance" in custody, especially after the liberation period. Of particular concern is decrimination against women.



Libya is a dictatorship with an extensive security aparatus. Col. Qadafi maintains an extensive security apparatus. There are several elite military units, including Qadhafi's personal bodyguards, local Revolutionary Committees, People's Committees, and "Purification" Committees. The result is a a multilayered, pervasive surveillance system that monitored and controlled the lives and ctivities of all Libyan citizens. These various security forces are responsible for numerous human rights abuses. The government under Col. Qadafi compleletly control the press. Citizens are not allowed to criticise Qadafi and the government and even peaceful protest is prohibited. There does not appear to be any extra-judicial killing, but the Government controled the judiciary and poor prison conditions have resulted un deaths. The Government has supported overseas terror attacks. The Government in an effort to deflect criticism og poor health care held foreign health care workers in jail for years.


Morocco has a mixed human rights record. Considerable abuses were reported during King Hassan II's reign (1961-99). Mohammed VI who suceeded his father has attempted to persue modernizing policies. There have been improvements in the civil rights situation, but there are still some complaints. Morocco like several other Arab countries faces a serious problem in trying to improve the civil rights problem in that there are Islamicists elements in Morocco comitted to violent action and willing to persue terror attacks both in Morocco and other countries. This greatly complicated efforts aiming at modernization and democratization.


The Omani Government has a mixed record in human rights. The Government is not as oppressive as many Arab governments, but there are severe limitations on the ability of citizans to influence government policy or freely express their opinions, especially to criticize the Government. Oman is a monarchy. There is an elected prliament, but it only has an advisory functions. Security forces are generally more restrained than in many Arab countries, but they do not always follow procedures regarding arrest and detention. There are cases of holding individuals incommunicado. There are no constitutional guarantees or legal provisions regarding conduct of a public trial. Due process has been denied individuals, primarily in state security courts. The use of the death penalty, however, is very limited and has to be approved by the Sultan. The Government has made some progress in moving toward a secular system of law with the institution of magistrate courts. There is a substantial degree of religious freedom with the bounds of a conservative Islamic state. Omani citizens must obtain permission from the Government to marry foreigners. The Government limits privacy rights. The Government restricts freedom of expression and association. The Government must approve the establishment of any public associations. Human rights organizations are prohibited from operating in Oman. Women are desriminated against, but the Government has made some progress in this area, in large measure through education. The Government also restricts workers rights. Foreign workers in particular have experienced abuse. The treatment of foreign domestic servants in some instances is tantamount to slavery


The Human rights situation in Palestinei is a very complex topic to discuss. Palestine in the 20th century underwent many political mutations. It began the century as a province of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I it was adminidstered as a League of Nations mandate by the British. This included two periods before and after the First Partition which separated Trans-Jordan from the rest if Palestine. Than after the British left and the First Isreali-Palestinian War was fought (1948-49), the West Bank and East Jerusalem was annex by Jordan and Gaza administered by Egypt. After the Six Days War (1967), Israel seized East-Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. After the Oslo Peace Process, the Palestinian Authority was given a substantial degree of internal self government, including a full Isreali withdrawl from Gaza (2005). The situation changed again with the Palestinian election (2006) and Hamas seized control of Gaza (2007). Thus any discussion of human rights in Palestine had to in the context of the political regime. Here we need to look at both government actions and the cultural values of the Palestinian people because they did not actually elect a gvernment until the 21st century (2006). One overwealming trend observeable throughout these different regimes has been the Palestinian Muslim tendency to resort to violence which has been directed at Jews, Christians, and other Muslims.


Pakistan has a poor human rights record. The country was born out of the British Raj. While India took a more inclusive, secular route. Pakistan was created a Muslim state. Pakistan's record is not as bad as many Middle Eastern countries, perhaps in part because of the democratic institutions inherited from the British Raj. There is considerable evidence of abuse experienced by women, children, and minorities. Here the problems lie with military rule, Islamic fundamentalism sponsoring terrorism, and a conservative, traditional culture. The situation is compounded by an increasingly ill functioning legal system, official corruption, a dysfunctional economy resulting in rising poverty. Living standards have fallen since independence in contrast to the bright hopes at the time. Deeply held social customs are incompatible with fundamental human rights. They are often bustressed by the powerful force of Islamic theology. This has been a major factor in Palistan's economic failure. Ironically fundamentalists demanding a greater role for Islam are building a poweful constinuency and have convinced youths to commit unspeakable acts of terroism.


Qatar has been an islnd of stability and relative tolerance in a tumultous region known for high repressive government controls. Human rights standards are, however, far below Western stndards. Sharia law is the core of the Qatari legal system. This legitimizes limits on thelegal rights of womemen, homosexuals and the free practice of religion. It also permits flogging. Stoning is also legal, but has not been used for years. The country had had a relatively low level of domestic dissent at least in comparison to neigboring Gulf states. The country has as a result attracted only limited internatioinal attention. As a result of its successful bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it has suddenly been thrust into the internation lime light. The issue that has emerged has been the treatment migrant workers. Oil has brought great wealth to Aqtar and has attracted migrant workers from South Asia (Pakistan and India) with many poor people looking for employment. They have been offered low wage jobs in Qatar, although higher than in their own cuntries. Some of these workers have reported abusive treatment by employers. Most of tge reports of abuse come in the construction industry. Qatari courts which might intervene to protect Qatari citizens are hesitant to protect the rights of migrants. Qatar has been studying, but has failed to enact meaningful reforms to its labor system which would offer legal protections to he migrants. There are reports of trafficking and forced labor. Qatar has developed a reputation as country with the highest degree of media freedom in the region. Some are concernbed that a new cybercrime law poses a serious threat to freedom of expression.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a monarchy in which citizens do not have a right to participate in the political process. There are few constraints on the security services which in addition to civil order exert great influence on personal conduct. There is no protection of individual rights pr privacy. Islam is the state religion and there is no religious freedom. There are also severe restrictions on women's rights. There are political prisoners. There are reports of torture, ill-treatment, incommunicado detention, and unfair trials. Saudi Arabia uses a variety of cruel punishments used in the Saudi criminal justice system, including flogging and amputations. Executions are carried out by beheadings with a sword. There is a disproportionate use of severe punishments against foreign nationals working in Saudi Arabia. The problem is particularly severe with female domestic workers who have virtually no ability to appeal to the police. Saudi Arabia is an extremely conservative society that is experimenting with modest reforms. The political reform process combined with attacks by various Islamic groups has created an unsettled security situation, The Islacist attacks have resulted in sometimes brutal resonses by security forces.


Domalia has a serious human rights problem. Currently the unstable political situation as a result of the on-going Somali Civil War and the rise of Islamic extremists are the cause of much of the problem. Somalia has not had an effective central government since President Mohamed Siad Barre was forced from the country (1991). The oppresive nature of the Siad Barre regime was a major factor leading to the Somali Civil War. A Transitional National Government (TNG) was established at the Djibouti Conference (2000). This was followed by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) (2004). The TFG approved the Transitional Federal Charter which guaranteed many essential civil rights. The TFG has not, however, been able to establish its authority, in large part because of the military success of Islamacists. The most important centers of power are Somaliland, the autonomous governments of Puntland, Southwestern Somalia, Jubaland, Galmudug, and various warlords. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU) established control over much of south and central Somalia (2006). The ICU began to apply strict sharia law and canceled many basic rights endorsed in the Transitional Federal Charter. The ICU received support from both Islamicist elements as well as Somalias seeking safety and security. Because the ICU supported insurgent groups in Ethiopia, the Ethiopians invaved Somalia (2007). The Ethiopians supported the TFG and quickly defeated the ICU which fled Mogadishu, allowing the TFG to enter the capital. Lingering support for the ICU has resulted in continuing terrorist attacks in the city. Somalia because of the lack of central control has become a center for piracy. The country juts out into the Indian Ocean--the Horn of Africa. This leads into the trade routes to and from the the Suez Canal. The pirates have seized a number of merchant vessels. They are equipped with sphisticated weapons includung Global Positioning System (GPS) instruments. Somali pirates seized more than 25 merchant vessels (Japan, North Korea, ect) (2007). The vessels seized have included cargo, vessels, ais ships, and cruise ships. The U.S. Navy has come to the ad of some of these ships as well as engaged the pirates.


The Sudanese Government consducted a vicious war against African Christians in the southern part of the country, conducting widespread attrocities. Unable to defeat the southern insurgency, the Sundanese Government after forced to sign a peace treaty with the southerns next targeted the Darfurians in the west. The Sudanese government is now conducting a genocide aimed at non-Aran African tribal Muslims in Darfur. The principal agent has been the Arab Janjaweed militia, but the Sudanese armed forces are also involved. They are guilty of widespread atrocities against local African tribes despite the fact they are also Muslims. The death toll in Darfur is now approaching a million people. The Arab League has blocked international efforts to stop the genocide. Egyptian soldiers have shot and killed Darfur refugees trying to reach Israel.


The Syrian Arab Republic is controlled by the Ba'ath Party. It has an atrocious human rights record, in large measure stemming from the Ba'ath's one-party rule. Under the Syrian Constitution the Ba'ath Party is designated as the ruling party. It is a crime in Syria to work against the Ba'ath in Syria. This included not violent political organization. The Government declared a state of emergency (1963). This state of emergency is still in effect. The Government restricts freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. The Syrian Ba'ath is controlled by the Assad family. There is also a system of Government sponsored corruption that benefits theAssad's and their cirrcle of supporters which has had a significant adverse impact on the country's economy.


There are reports of human rights abuses in Tunisia. There are significant limitations on freedom of expression. The Government takes actions against individual repoters and newspapers. Reports indicate the arrests of human rights proponents and political opponents. The judiciary is not independent and their are repots of unfair trials. Much of the complaints about human rights abuses relate to the security aparatus and its use to supress political dissent. Critics charge that there are a substantial number of political prisoners who are subject to misstreatment and torture. The problem with assessing Tunisia is how to defertiate between restrictions designed to combat terrorism and the rise of theocratic government from efforts to restrict legitimate democratic dissent. While Tunisia has made little progress with political reforms, the Government has made considerable program with economic reforms considerably expanding economic rights. The reforms have made Tunisia the most sucessful Arab economy not based on oil. The Tunisian Government guarantees equal legal rights to women, There are, however, concerns over thetreatment of women. Human rights observers report a generally amicable relationship among religions groups in Tunisia.


The human rights record of Turkey is a difficult issue, in part because the Turkish state was founded on creating a homgenous Turkish heartland. And this involved killing the Aemenians who were both Christian and ethnically distinct. Turkey is on of the few democracies in the Middle East, but Turkish democracy has its limits. There is a multi-party parliament and a vigorous and vocal press. Mionrity groups do not enjoy strong protections and there are certain limitations to free speech. There is also not a fully independent judiciary. While Turkey is the most secular Middle Eastern cuntry other than Israel, the country's secular traditions are under attack by Islamicist groups. Turkey was established from the Ottoman Empire after Wotld I as a staunchly secular state. The Army also continues to play a major role in Turkish society. There have also been attacks on minority groups. Human rights has become a major issue in Turkey's efforts to join the Ruropean Union. THE EU has set meeting human rights conditions. Both politicians and writers have been prosecuted and imprisoned. It is illegal to honestly discuss the Armenian Genocide. There are reports of authorities mistreating detainees, including torture and some deaths. The Army has been a factor in holding up greater freedom of expression. It also is resiting demands by Islamicits to modify the secular state.

United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is socially one of the most liberal countries in the Persion Gulf region, but of course the Gulf is a very conservative regions. There is considerable tolerance for different cultures and religious beliefs. Politically the country was an absolute monarchy, however, with no representative legislative body. The UAE held its first national elections for an advisory body (December 2006).


Yemen has a poor human rights record. The Yemeni Government set up several committees to monitor human rights (2000). It has failed, however, to take any basic steps to enact measures protecting human rights. Reports suggest the use of torture in both Government and private prisons and jails as well as extra-judicial detention facilities. Yemeni courts continue issue death sentences and a variety of cruel punishments (floggings and stonings) for many sometimes minor offenses. Yemeni authorities have arrested political opponents and have ignored court orders demanding that they be brought to trial or released. The Government restricts fee speech. Authorities harass the press. Women are subject to institutionalized discrimination based on Islamic tradition and Sharia law. Descrimination against women manifests itself in both personal status and criminal law. Crime is a serious problem. Both Yemenis and foreign nationals are targeted for kidnaping by criminal and various disaffected groups. The Government response has commonly involved excessive and indiscriminate use of force. Security forces have at times used collective punishment.


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Created: 6:44 AM 6/20/2007
Last updated: 6:53 AM 4/4/2016