logo-eui RSCAS

Designed to fail? Regional human rights institutions in the Middle East and North Africa and the ‘Arab Spring’

25 November 2015 @ 11:00 am – 1:00 pm Europe/Rome Timezone
Seminar room 2, Badia Fiesolana
Via della Badia dei Roccettini
50014 Fiesole FI
Valentina Bettin

Speaker: Vera van Hüllen (Leuphana University of Lüneburg)

Discussant: Olivier Roy (EUI)

Academic Coordinator: Carlos Closa Montero (EUI)


Despite high hopes for democratic change during the ‘Arab Spring’, authoritarianism persists in the Middle East and North Africa and can easily account for the ‘weakness’ of regional human rights institutions in a global comparison. Nevertheless, members of the Arab League have engaged in regional cooperation on human rights issues since the 1960s and since the 2000s, we even see the emergence of a regional human rights regime (Charta, Court). This raises the question why, under which conditions, and to what effect authoritarian regimes create regional human rights institutions. The general argument is one of ‘hypocrisy’ or ‘decoupling’, meaning that these institutions are in fact ‘designed to fail’ with regard to their official purpose of promoting respect of human rights. Tracing the evolution of regional human rights politics in the Arab world over time indeed supports the argument that authoritarian regimes develop a rational demand for creating regional human rights institutions in response to changing international (and domestic) conditions. In light of increased expectations (‘global script’) and pressure (security concerns) from the international community, they create these institutions in order to generate international legitimacy and to fend off external interference in regional and domestic politics, thus largely avoiding the need for domestic change and actual compliance. In conclusion, these findings suggested that we can either give up on authoritarian regimes as the ‘lost cases’ of international human rights politics or take the study of authoritarian (human rights) regionalism further by studying its genesis, design, and effects against the background of a multi-level game of regime survival.