The Arab Spring refers to the popular protests and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa that started in Tunisia in late 2010 and rapidly spread to Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria in early 2011. Mass protests demanded economic improvement, dignity, legal reforms, job opportunities - and in some cases even regime change. In Syria, they developed into an armed conflict that continues to this day. These events have empowered people throughout the region, and in some countries they have led to legal reforms, changes of government and democratic elections that were hitherto unthinkable.
Hivos found itself well-positioned to take advantage of the openings the Arab Spring afforded because we have been active in the West Asia region since 2004, identifying and supporting civil society initiatives in Iran, Iraq and Syria. We also work in cooperation with activists and organisations from other countries in the region and from the diasporas. Although our ambitions for these complex social and religious environments are high, our aim remains to help create the conditions for open, fair and inclusive societies that respect human rights, offer women equal opportunities and uphold minority rights. Hivos activities focus on human rights and women’s empowerment, LGBT rights, freedom of expression and citizen’s engagement.
Furthering women’s participation in political processes and in society at large is particularly urgent in the MENA region during these times of transition. Our new “Women on the Frontline” initiative is a powerful response to the rightful demands of women in the MENA region for gender equality and political inclusion. This three-year initiative will support capacity development of the partners in the programme to enhance women's active participation in the political process in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya.
Freedom of expression in a variety of forms is a cross-cutting element in Hivos’ work in the MENA region. Our partner the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), for example, monitored and promoted press freedom in Syria and tracked the detention of journalists until its staff were arrested in February 2012. As part of our efforts to publicise their situation and increase international pressure on the Syrian government, Hivos has issued regular updates on their detention, issued joint statements with other NGOs, lobbied with the special UN envoy on Syria and organised a trial observation mission.
To create more space for an independent civil society that respects human rights, we support non-violent human rights defenders in the MENA region who are often persecuted for their work, statements and publications. This also includes lawyers, women's rights activists, LGBT activists, bloggers or scholars. In close partnership with Scholars At Risk, Hivos offers persecuted activists and scholars temporary positions in safe countries.
As the internet played an important facilitating role in the Arab Spring uprisings, Hivos launched its Internet Governance in the MENA region training programme in 2012 to improve knowledge on internet governance and internet policy. The programme’s two main objectives are to equip and train different regional stakeholders with skills and knowledge on IG processes and to enable them play active roles in promoting, safeguarding and anchoring Freedom of Expression /Freedom of Information and internet freedom in the legislation and the societies of the region.
Hivos has responded to the Arab Spring, and in particular to the uprising in Syria, with a surge in advocacy in Europe. Our policy advocacy is directed at the Dutch foreign ministry, the European Commission and United Nations on the behalf of persecuted human rights and women's rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, artists, scholars, and others. We also organise visits from MENA region activists so they can personally inform policymakers of the situation in their countries. Thanks in part to advocacy and groundwork done by Hivos and its partner Justice for Iran, the European Union has launched smart sanctions against human rights violators in Iran.