UN report: Arab states using terror threat to deny freedoms

Special to World
Tuesday, October 21, 2003

AMMAN Arab countries have used the war on Al Qaida to deny basic freedoms.

A United Nations report said the war against Al Qaida in the Middle East has resulted in a crackdown by Arab regimes on Islamic groups as well as an effort to curb political freedom. The report said this has increased unrest and encouraged the emergence of insurgency groups.

"Perhaps the gravest repercussion of the war on terror is that it gave ruling regimes in some Arab countries spurious justification for curbing freedoms through an expanded definition of terrorism," the UN Arab Human Development Report 2003 said.

The 200-page report, released in Amman on Monday, reviewed the prospect for development in the Middle East. The study said Arab regimes will be unable to fuel economic and political development through the denial of political freedom.

Over the last two years, the report said, Arab regimes have taken a series of measures that have restricted civil liberties. The UN said governments have reduced Internet access and banned a range of publications meant to encourage Islamic insurgency groups. The report said the Arab world has one of the lowest rates of Internet access, with 1.6 percent. In Britain the figure is 40 times higher.

"A climate of freedom is an essential prerequisite of the knowledge society," the report said. "It is also imperative to end the era of administrative control and the grip of security agencies over the production and dissemination of knowledge and the various forms of creative activity that are foundations for the knowledge society in Arab countries."

Arab regimes have also exploited the Arab-Israeli conflict and the U.S.-led war in Iraq to crack down on dissidents, the report said. The UN cited increased constraints on non-governmental organizations.

"The issue of freedom in Arab countries has become a casualty of the overspill from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq," the report said. "The conflict between popular sentiments and official positions has led to security forces responding with force, tear-gas bombs and rubber bullets to quell popular demonstrations against the war on Iraq in more than one Arab country."

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