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Responding to Ethnic and Religious Conflict in the Emerging Arab Order: The Promise and Limits of Rights

Omar M. Dajani

University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law

November 10, 2012

In this paper, I consider whether the Middle East needs a convention on the status and protection of minorities, of the kind adopted more than a decade ago by the Council of Europe. I begin, in Part I, by offering some factual context, describing three dynamics that have proven to be potent sources of intercommunal conflict in the region, particularly in the context of recent challenges to authoritarian regimes: Islamist majoritarianism and religious minorities; territorial conflict and nationalist minorities; and survivalist minoritarianism and politically dominant minorities. These dynamics, I submit, highlight not only the need for concerted regional action to prevent intercommunal conflict but also some of the challenges likely to attend such an effort. I then turn, in Part II, to sketching the international legal context. As I explain, while states long ago recognized that intercommunal conflict within their borders had the potential to lead to transnational conflict across them, international law reflects continuing differences among states about how to prevent tensions between ethnic and religious groups from erupting into threats to international peace. In Europe, whose experience has had an outsized influence on the development of this area of international law, regional institutions have undertaken to prevent conflict by erecting a normative framework for minority protection around the twin pillars of individual rights and an expansive conception of freedom of association, while reserving to states broad latitude for developing domestic strategies for managing diversity. In Part III, I consider whether a similar regional effort should be undertaken in the Middle East to develop a consensus about norms pertaining to the status and protection of minorities. I conclude that such an effort would be valuable, particularly in view of the need for greater development of local norms and for their harmonization with one another and with established international human rights standards. However, a treaty exercise is premature – and is unlikely to yield results on the ground unless it is complemented by a broader effort to address the political and strategic dynamics that make states reluctant to commit to the protection of sub-national groups and that undermine the credibility of commitments that they do make.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 38

Keywords: ethnic conflict, religious conflict, human rights, regional institutions, Middle East, Arab spring

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Date posted: December 19, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Dajani, Omar M., Responding to Ethnic and Religious Conflict in the Emerging Arab Order: The Promise and Limits of Rights (November 10, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2190775 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2190775

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Omar M. Dajani (Contact Author)
University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law ( email )
3200 Fifth Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95817
United States
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