Minorities at risk following Arab Spring – rights group

Source: alertnet // Emma Batha
Egyptian Coptic Christian women grieve after a mass funeral for seven victims of sectarian clashes at Samaan el-Kharaz Church in Manshiet Nasr shantytown in eastern Cairo, March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

By Emma Batha

LONDON (AlertNet) – Minorities across the Arab world face increasing risks to their lives following last year’s revolutions, rights activists have warned following the release of an annual list of people under threat.

Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria have all risen up the table since last year, according to Minority Rights Group whose survey seeks to identify those people at greatest risk of genocide, mass killing or other violent repression.

“If 2011 will be remembered as the year of the Arab Spring, then 2012 could become the year the revolutions soured,” said MRG Executive Director Mark Lattimer.

“The huge changes taking place across the Middle East and North Africa, while increasing hopes for democratisation, represent for both religious and ethnic minorities perhaps the most dangerous episode since the violent break-up of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia.”

Although the Peoples under Threat survey shows many states in North Africa and the Middle East have risen up the rankings, none of them is in the top 10.

The most dangerous countries for minorities are listed as Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Myanmar, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Iran.

The highest new entry is South Sudan, which gained independence in July. A history of cattle raiding between several ethnic groups has developed into inter-communal violence on a highly organised scale, MRG said.


MRG said that in Libya, where strongman Muammar Gaddafi was toppled last October, former rebels still hold up to 6,000 people arrested during or after the conflict. Up to half are thought to be sub-Saharan migrants or black Libyans, according to MRG which said some had been tortured to death.

Systematic repression also continues against black Libyans from the town of Tawergha, which Gaddafi used as a base to shell the coastal city of Misrata. They deny accusations they collaborated with Gaddafi but have been forced to leave their hometown. Thousands now live in displacement camps.

MRG said that in Egypt increasing numbers of Copts are reported to be leaving the country following attacks on churches and intimidation.

In Syria, members of the president’s minority Alawite sect fear for their fate if the conflict intensifies. Syriac Christians are also worried about the possibility of attacks from Sunni militants, MRG said.

In Yemen, thousands of members of the marginalised Akhdam community have taken to the streets to protest against the racism they face. Anthropologists have compared the Akhdam to the “untouchable” caste of India.

“Differences between Sunni and Shia, Muslims and non-Muslims, Arabs and non-Arabs, are all expressions of an internal diversity in the Arab world that is often under-estimated and which depends on mutual respect. These differences must not become fault lines for mass killing,” Lattimer added.

MRG says almost all of the significant episodes of civilian killing last year happened in countries which were high up or major risers in its 2011 Peoples Under Threat list.

The top 10 risers this year are: South Sudan, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Libya, Kosovo, Mali and Egypt.

(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)