Protest and human rights

U.S. must stand up to human rights abuses in MENA, stop emboldening dictators

U.S. President Joe Biden has ignored activists and civil society groups’ call to address the extreme human rights abuses perpetrated by leaders from the Middle East and North Africa during a recent visit to the region. Access Now stands in solidarity with civil society organizations demanding an end to the unconditional support by the U.S. and other governments given to oppressive regimes in MENA.

“The MENA region doesn’t need a savior, it needs consistency and respect,” said Marwa Fatafta, MENA Policy and Advocacy Manager at Access Now. “We cannot continue to hear companies and world leaders publicly condemn human rights abuses, then keep silent when an oil deal is on the table. U.S. President Joe Biden had the opportunity to look Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the face and demand accountability. He chose not to.” 

Since Biden’s visit, Saudi Arabia has continued its civil society persecution, handing a 34-year prison sentence to Salma al-Shehab, a UK-based PhD student and human rights defender, for simply re-tweeting and following dissidents and activists on her personal Twitter account. Salma’s online activities led to what is considered the “longest prison sentence ever for a peaceful activist.” This ruling sends a chilling message from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on how peaceful activism will continue to be dealt with in the Kingdom. 

President Biden also met with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, amid growing calls for Egypt to release the thousands of political activists behind bars, including British-Egyptian activist and software developer Alaa Abd El-Fattah, whose hunger strike has lasted over 150 days. The U.S. and UK, among others, must use political pressure to see Alaa and thousands of unjustly detained prisoners released.

 “It’s beyond time to end this suffering of peaceful activists across the MENA region,” said Kassem Mnejja, MENA Campaigner at Access Now. “Alaa’s case is one of many, and he is again spotlighting the thousands of unjustly detained, while fighting for his own battle. As COP27 approaches, governments participating in the conference have an opportunity to make a statement and stand up for human rights.”

Furthermore, as appalling cases of governments continuing to surveil and prosecute activists, silence dissent, and shrink both online and offline civic spaces, large technology companies are jumping at the opportunity to invest. 

The U.S. and world leaders must step up and demand accountability for human rights abuses in MENA.