When the Arab interior and justice ministers’ meeting in Cairo in late April finally signed an accord on the only thing they normally agree on - the need to fight Islamic activism, euphemistically referred to as terrorism - Arab secular commentators and politicians hailed it as a secure bulwark against the dark forces of anarchy and backwardness. Believing initially that the long-awaited agreement targets only Islamic movements, they now realize that its terms are wide enough to target secular opposition as well.
A little-known regional rights organization based in Cairo issued an unusually critical statement on May 4, accusing the accord of ‘exaggerating the criminalization of the phenomenon of terrorism’ and, in the process, of ‘threatening the right of the individual to freedom and personal safety.’ The Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and Advocacy said in its statement that the definition of ‘terrorism,’ was ‘ too defuse as to constitute a threat to the safety of the person and political opponents.’
The Center’s secretary-general, Nassir Amin, told the London-based Al-Hayat Arabic daily the following day that his organization ‘welcomes all measures designed to protect the society against terrorism and violence’ and considered the move to ‘surround these phenomena as a positive action’ - adding that what the center rejected was the restriction of the personal freedoms of the citizen as the price to be paid for this.
Nassir particularly objected to the extradition aspects of the accord, describing the relevant provisions as a ‘sword hanging over the freedom of citizens’, claiming that they enable governments demanding the extradition of persons simply to ask the arrest of those persons until the arrival of the formal application for extradition. The procedure does not require a judicial order to authorize the arrest, he said.
As the head of a legal center, Nassir must know that no matter how ‘liberal’ Arab League countries’ laws might be, the only freedoms enjoyed by citizens are those allowed by the autocratic rulers, and that, despite his organization’s grand name, in practice there is no such thing as the rule of law or independence of the judiciary. He must also know that the anti-terrorism agreement merely formalizes the practice, if not the laws, obtaining in Arab countries where extradition is routine and often in violation of the law.
If there is one constitutional rule that is universally observed in Arab League States, it is that the ‘person’ of the king or president - or The Brother Leader, as colonel Qaddafi is officially known - is immune to criticism. In practice this includes members of their dynasties and cronies. The rule has allowed secular politicians and commentators to pretend that they enjoy a certain measure of freedom of expression and action by indulging in harmless criticism of and opposition to the regimes.
But even this measure of bogus liberties has not been available to Islamic activists, who have been the main targets of the crackdown by Arab - indeed Muslim - regimes. The secularists, who have supported the crackdown in the false cause of curbing terrorism, hailed the Arab anti-terrorism accord as a breakthrough when it was first signed in Cairo on April 22 - believing that it would enhance their position at the expense of Islamic activists, the principal target of this outrageous instrument.
The accord in some ways goes even further than the practice of the States signing it. It calls, for instance, for the compulsory collection of intelligence of ‘terrorist organizations, their leadership and sources of funding.’ It also calls for the protection of such information and of witnesses - a move designed to encourage people to bear false witness against ‘suspected’ or ‘apprehended terrorist.’
In the past, Arab regimes fighting Islamic activists relied on bilateral arrangements on securing information on Islamic movements. A recent example of this is the accord singed by Libya and Saudi Arabia - two otherwise strange bedfellows - on February 25 which, as interior minister prince Nayef put it at the time, ‘covered everything of interest to both countries.’
Many of them also exchanged information with western and other Muslim governments. Egypt’s president Husni Mubarak famously complained that the information he had supplied to the US Central Intelligence Agency on the Egyptian Islamic movement was ignored. The CIA - which is incidentally training Yassir Arafat’s thugs - must have been closely involved in bringing the Arab accord to a successful conclusion. The agency is known to have strong links with many of its Arab counterparts, which it trains and advises.
The monstrous agreement was signed by Arab interior and justice ministers. What was surprising about all this was not that the ministers put their signatures to it but that it had taken them more than a year to do so. Different ministers objected to different provisions for their own ends.
One of the problematic clauses referred to ‘armed struggle.’ Some countries said this would encourage terrorism while others argued that its absence would brand the Palestinian struggle as terrorism. Morocco was even afraid that such a clause was slyly directed against its position on the Sahrawi conflict. It withdrew its objection finally after being convinced that the clause was restricted to the ‘Arab struggle’ against Israel.
It is not perhaps surprising that the most enthusiastic minister at the time of the signing ceremony was the Algerian minister. Nor it surprising that the accord does not allude to State terrorism. Why should a criminal compact by grisly dictators condemn it, when the UN’s human rights commission fails to censure Algeria for its State terrorism?
Muslimedia: May 16-31, 1998