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Opinion

How the Arab world can prevent another Qaddafi: share a regional bill of rights

To protect citizens from future autocrats, Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab nations working toward democratic reforms should adopt a single, regional bill of rights among other agreements. The US helped Europe adopt such pacts after World War II, and it should help Arabs do the same now.

By Grégoire Mallard / February 28, 2011



Evanston, Ill.

The world has watched and cheered at the peaceful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. But observers in the West have expressed fears that future autocrats might steal their victories. And citizens in Tunisia and Egypt can still be legitimately concerned about the possibility of an Iranian scenario. Will a populist government ignore the rule of law, steal future elections, and develop an adventurous nuclear program?

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Constitutions are supposed to address this peril. In the next few months, Tunisia and Egypt will reform their constitutions in order to grant more rights to their citizens. Other Arab nations may follow. But in the past, constitutions have proved malleable in the hands of authoritarian rulers.

To prevent future political leaders from stealing the fruits of their democratic revolution, these countries should start a process of regional democratic integration, delegating the protection of core principles to regional courts and institutions. The United States should help the new Arab democracies in this endeavor.

Lessons learned from Europe

This is the lesson we have learned from Europe.

When democratic forces emerged from the ashes of Nazi rule in Europe, the US actively promoted the efforts of the democratic leaders of the European integration movement.

The US applauded the European parliamentarians who signed a European bill of rights and instituted a court that all individuals living in Europe could petition directly if they felt their political and civil rights were threatened by their governments.

After World War II, this European movement did not stop at the protection of political and civil liberties. In 1957, European leaders signed two collective treaties in Rome. One instituted the European Community of Atomic Energy (Euratom), which the US recognized quickly by signing the US-Euratom Treaty in 1958.

The Euratom Treaty ensures that nuclear development does not take precedence over the rights of a country's citizens. At its center, we find two democratic principles.

First, European citizens can petition the European Court of Justice if they feel member states do not honor the treaty. Second, each country's citizens elect members of the European Parliament whose mandate includes discussing the nuclear policies of its member states.

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