Political legitimacy, contingency, and rights in the Middle East and North Africa

Authored by: Hussein Banai

Routledge Handbook on Human Rights and the Middle East and North Africa

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138807679
eBook ISBN: 9781315750972
Adobe ISBN: 9781317613763


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Very few governments in the contemporary Middle East enjoy popular legitimacy. The coercive powers of most states in the region, in the main, are exercised by fiat rather than sanctioned by their citizenry. According to Freedom House surveys of civil and political liberties around the world, of the twenty-one countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, only Israel and Tunisia are free (encompassing only five percent of the region’s 410 million populace—but even counting Israel and Tunisia as free is contentious to many experts). 1 These findings are confirmed by issue-specific reports such as Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, 2 Amnesty International Annual Reports on myriad abuses of human rights, the United Nations Human Development Index 3 , and a host of other (non/inter)governmental reports. The consistency of these reports over the course of the last two decades, combined with myriad failed efforts at reform and liberalization in the region, help to explain why the so-called ‘third wave’ of democratization sweeping across central and eastern Europe, Latin America, and parts of central Asia and the Caucuses has largely eluded the MENA region.

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