BRUSSELS (EJP)--- The European Parliament's foreign affairs committee expressed “solidarity” for the nations of last year’s Arab Spring movement Wednesday, as MEPs met with their Human Rights Subcommittee counterparts to debate current developments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and ongoing road to democracy and freedom.
Whilst committing to defending the people-led uprising to displace their former authoritarian leaderships, foreign affairs committee chairman Elmar Brok warned that alongside the “tremendous expectations” inevitably roused by encouraging developments to date, comes the cautionary tale of the civil deterioration in Syria, “one reminder that dreams can turn bad”.
In conversation with the three 2011 Sakharov Prize laureates, Asmaa Mahfouz (Egypt), Ahmed al-Sanusi (Libya) and Ali Farzat (Syria) - which was last year awarded to a total of five individuals, the remaining two of whom hailed from Tunisia and Syria, in recognition of their contribution “to historic changes in the Arab world...(as well as the EU’s) solidarity and firm support for freedom, democracy and the end of authoritarian regimes” – Human Rights Subcommittee chair Barbara Lochihler warned that “the human rights situation remains challenging in all Arab Spring countries”, commended the laureates for not have “lot their will to continue their fight for the freedom of thought”.
The message of optimism tempered with caution mirrored last month’s UN General Assembly address by EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, where he told assembled delegates: “we are bound by a simple truth: achieving lasting change takes time...deep tensions don’t suddenly dissolve once a dictator is gone”. Continuing to warn “there will undoubtedly be disappointments along the way” to achieving democracy and freedom in Arab Spring states, he added that “whatever the future brings, the Arab Spring will remain a turning point. The movement is irreversible. Once the voices of the people have been set free – an unforgettable experience for all those who were never heard before – these voices cannot be silenced”.
Committing the EU’s ongoing support of the peoples” efforts to achieve a lasting democratic transition, he concluded: “We are in it for the long run. I want to reaffirm: we still believe in the message of the Arab Spring.”
Asmaa Mahfouz joined the Egyptian April 6th Youth Movement in 2008, helping to organise strikes for fundamental rights. Sustained harassment of journalists and activists by the Mubarak regime as well as the Tunisian example prompted Ms Mahfouz to organise her own protests. Her Youtube videos, Facebook and Twitter posts helped motivate Egyptians to demand their rights in the Tahrir Square. After being detained by the Supreme Council of Armed forces, she was released on bail due to pressure from prominent activists.
Ahmed al-Sanusi, also known as the longest-serving "prisoner of conscience", spent 31 years in Libyan prisons as a result of an attempted coup against Colonel Gaddafi. A member of the National Transitional Council, he is now working to "achieve freedom and race to catch up with humanity" and establish democratic values in post-Gaddafi Libya.
Ali Farzat, a political satirist, is a well-known critic of the Syrian regime and its leader President Bashar al-Assad. Mr Farzat became more straightforward in his cartoons when the March 2011 uprisings began. His caricatures ridiculing Bashar al-Assad's rule helped to inspire revolt in Syria. In August 2011, the Syrian security forces beat him badly, breaking both his hands as "a warning", and confiscated his drawings.