Documents on Democracy

Issue Date January 2013
Volume 24
Issue 1
Page Numbers 183-187
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Bahrain

At the Seventh Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy (see p. 188), Maryam al-Khawaja accepted a Democracy Courage Tribute on behalf of human-rights defenders in Bahrain. Khawaja, the daughter of imprisoned activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is the acting president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, whose president, Nabeel Rajab, also sits in prison for organizing and participating in protests for democratic reform. Below are excerpts from her speech:

Bahrain has had up to a hundred deaths resulting from its protest movement. . . . If we were comparing it per capita to Egypt, that would equal more than 11,000 people dead today. The largest protest in Bahrain was of about 300,000 to 400,000 people. That is like saying forty-million Egyptians came out onto the streets in a protest.

Because of its population, the situation in Bahrain seems like a very small, minor issue that can be overlooked. But the fact of the matter is that more than half of the population of a country came out to demand change, and they were beaten down by their own government. Thousands of people have been imprisoned. Thousands of people have been systematically tortured—physically, psychologically, and sexually. Thousands of people have lost their jobs. . . .

I’ve always said that when you want to understand the human-rights situation of any country, look at where their human-rights defenders are. In Bahrain, the most prominent human-rights defenders today sit in prison. Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, Nabeel Rajab, and Abdeljalil al-Singace are in prison. Zainab al-Khawaja, Yousif al-Muhafdha, and Mohamed al-Maskati have been in and out of prison. That’s the reality we live in Bahrain: If your job is to criticize the government in regards to human-rights violations, if it is your job to document and report on human-rights violations in the country, then your place is in prison. . . .

It is not that people are no longer afraid. Fear exists because the consequences [End Page 183] are very real. The torture is very real. The killing is very real. So, it is not the inexistence of fear. It is rather that people have decided to tread on their fear, to go out despite their fear, and I think that’s what we should honor them for.

One of the things that I would also like to speak about very quickly is the Western or the international role towards the situation in Bahrain. When I became a human-rights defender, I was about 22 or 23 years old, and I went in with this romanticized, beautified vision of what the system that had been set up internationally to protect human rights was. Now, at the age of 25, I know better. I know that there is no such thing as an international system that protects human rights and human-rights defenders wherever they may be. . . .

Now, the Bahraini people have pledged to continue no matter what the costs are. They feel like they’ve been completely ignored and sidelined internationally. But they have decided to continue because they believe in the idea that no government can outlast its people. So, they have continued to go on, and to demand, and to protest every day despite not being covered by the media, despite not receiving the same kind of recognition or support internationally.

But despite all of the negativity in my speech, I would like to end on a positive note. My family went to visit my father in prison one day. And they were very upset and depressed because of the situation in Bahrain and because of the lack of international regard for the situation. My father asked them why they were upset and they explained it to him. He told them something that until today inspires me. He said to them, your attitude is wrong because the initial victory of the mass uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa region is not regime change. It is not creating the reforms. It is the fact that masses of people tread upon their fears and went out to demand those things, and you should be celebrating that. That should be your attitude today.

And in light of that, I would like to stand here today to honor not only the Bahraini people but all of the people who fight and struggle for justice and democracy and freedom. I stand here to honor the people of Iran who struggle for freedom, the people of Tunisia, the people of Libya, the people of Egypt, the people of Syria, the people of Yemen, and the people of Bahrain. These are people who decided that against all odds they were going to go out and demand change. . . .

Pakistan

On October 9, masked gunmen boarded a school bus, seized fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, and shot her multiple times in the head and neck. Yousafzai had drawn the ire of the Taliban and the attention of the international community beginning in 2009 when, as an eleven-year-old, she wrote a series of blog posts describing her desire for education [End Page 184] and the horrors of life under the occupation of the Taliban. Having survived the attack, Yousafzai received treatment in England and is recovering. On September 15, just weeks before the attack, Yousafzai was awarded the Civic Courage Award by the Center for Civic Education in Islamabad. Below are excerpts from her speech that day:

We have seen the worst in Swat. Our schools were destroyed. Girls were barred from education and even flogged. People were slaughtered. Even the CD shops were not spared. The circumstances made people shiver. Amid bomb blasts, we lost our peace. Girls were scared of going to schools. We had to flee our homes. We could only return after the [military] operation normalized the situation. Girls are now back in schools. Shops have resumed business. Everything is fine now. . . .

The only factor that brought normalcy was the struggle of the people. Had people failed to raise their voices, Swat would have become another Waziristan. Girls and senior citizens of Swat joined hands with others and fought for their rights. People rendered sacrifices to restore peace in Swat. People win their rights only when they struggle to achieve them. . . .

Great nations learn from history. The dilemma of Swat is now part of our history and we pledge to learn from it because if we do not, we will never accomplish our goals. What I have learnt from the circumstances is that just one voice and one movement is strong enough against the groups which usurp the rights of the people. If they are armed with guns, you have the weapon of the pen and the power of words to defeat them. . . .

Most of the time, we remain silent. . . . Don’t you realize how bad it is to destroy schools? Don’t you agree confining women to the home is wrong? Everyone knows but seldom stands up. We know what our rights are. We can differentiate between good and evil. Still, we don’t speak out. . . . The strongest weapon in the world is a pen—not a gun, tank, or helicopter. . . .

There was a recent incident in Swat wherein a 12-year-old girl was exchanged in compensation for a crime committed by her brother. Backed by her father, the girl stood against that decision. She went to the court and saved herself from the darkness of injustice. We must have more youngsters like her. We must inform them about their fundamental rights, without which the new generation would give in to existing cultural taboos and obsolete social norms.

We create culture and formulate laws. It was not God’s decree to exchange girls as compensation. Why can’t we change that which is neither a holy decree nor written in any holy scripture? We are entitled to make laws and empowered to change them. The most important thing to do is to cleanse our culture and traditions of all the negativity which exists today. We are the architects of our culture, so we should be entitled to change it. . . . [End Page 185]

Georgia

On October 2, one day after elections for the Parliament and prior to the release of official results, President Mikheil Saakashvili delivered a televised address conceding the defeat of his United National Movement and pledging to respect the victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream coalition. Below is an excerpt from his speech:

After summarizing the preliminary results of parliamentary elections, it is obvious that the Georgian Dream coalition has gained an advantage in these elections. It means that the parliamentary majority should form a new government, and I as the president will support—within the framework of the constitution—the process of launching Parliament’s work, so that it is able to elect its chairman and form a new government.

You know well that the views of this coalition were and still are fundamentally unacceptable [to me]. There are very deep differences between us and we believe that their views are extremely wrong, but democracy works in such a way that the Georgian people make decisions by majority rule. That’s what we, of course, respect very much. At the same time, as the leader of the United National Movement, I want to say that we will go into opposition.

The achievements of the Rose Revolution over the last eight years are not only very important for Georgian history—this is one of the most important periods in Georgia’s long history—but also these achievements have turned Georgia into one of the important countries for the rest of the world. I am deeply confident that ultimately, regardless of what threats they may face over the coming months or years, the eradication of these achievements is impossible.

Therefore, we as the opposition force will fight for the future of our country. We will fight to preserve our achievements in combating corruption and crime, modernizing the country, building new institutions, protecting them as much as possible, preserving them for future generations, and further developing Georgia through constitutional and political means. . . .

Following Saakashvili’s speech, Ivanishvili called President Saakashvili the root of Georgia’s problems and urged him to resign. The next day Ivanishvili issued a statement clarifying his remarks. An excerpt from this statement appears below:

One of our main goals is to ensure constitutional order and the uninterrupted operation of state bodies during the transition process. . . . It is also important to mention that the constitution of Georgia makes relations with the acting government, including the president of Georgia, unavoidable. In regards to my comments made at yesterday’s press conference about [End Page 186] the president stepping down, this is neither my nor the coalition’s political request. I only underlined that the constitution as crafted only to serve the interests of one individual [Saakashvili] creates many difficulties in today’s political atmosphere. Given the situation, the best way out is for the president to step down.

So, we declare once again that we do not make any political ultimatums. For the sake of the country’s well-being and prosperity, we are ready to conduct dialogue with the president of Georgia and representatives of the acting government and to settle the issues facing the government’s operation.

Mexico

On December 1, newly elected president Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address. Excerpts appear below:

Very few countries—not just in Latin America but also the world— have had the continuity of our country, where every six years since 1934 Mexico has witnessed the inauguration of a new president. Over the years, the country has maintained internal political order. As Mexicans, we have achieved the original purpose of our revolution without caudillos and without dictators. Full democracy took its time. But today, this democracy has been consolidated and has become part of our culture.

Since 1910, millions of Mexicans from all political affiliations have fought a large civic battle for democracy in the twentieth century. But it was due to the student movement in 1968 and the political reforms that have followed it that our democracy has accelerated.

From this time, generations of women and men, thinkers, politicians, activists, and citizens have worked to make democracy a reality, and finally have won it. This democratic Mexico is the Mexico of our time.

In the Mexico of today, there is alternation of power in all areas of government. In the Mexico of today, there exists an authentic division of powers and there is a healthy plurality of parties in Congress. . . .

Mexico lives, in sum, in a new stage of its history: one in which there is a democracy with solid institutions and with electoral processes that are competitive, pluralistic, and participatory. . . .

Despite our achievements in the macroeconomic sphere, in the stability of our institutions, and in the vigor of our democracy, Mexico has not achieved the advances that the population demands and deserves. . . .

Today, as Mexicans, we want change. We want to improve the quality of life of Mexican families. . . . As president of the republic, leading this transformation is my responsibility. To do this democratically is my unavoidable obligation. . . . [End Page 187]