Exclusive Interview with
Nada Dhaif – Founder and Chairman of Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization
As a medical doctor, Dr. Nada Dhaif – human rights activist and the founder and chairman of BRAVO –was arrested and tried for providing medical care to injured pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain. She was sentenced to 15 years in a military prison and endured electrocution and beatings while in custody. Dr. Dhaif continues to be a vocal defender of human rights and cooperates with reputable human rights organizations to bring attention to the pro-democracy struggle in Bahrain. Dr. Dhaif graduated from the Cairo University, Egypt, in 1996. She is currently undertaking her postgraduate training in Interceptive, Functional and Neuromuscular Orthodontics at the International College of Neuromuscular Orthodontics and Gnathology in Italy.
She believes that Islam should provide a government with guidelines that play an enlightening role, but, at the same time, Islam should not be used as an authoritarian tool. In the 21st century, societies consist of multiple ethnic and religious groups, so a civil state is required to protect both the majority and minorities. Dr. Dhaif also believes in the value of education and the support of the youth in the process of transition to democracy.
EUBULLETIN talked to Dr. Nada Dhaif about some misconceptions and misperceptions regarding the Arab Spring movement, whether or not the Middle East is an intrinsically violent region and also the if the concept of human rights should be seen in a regional context, such as taking into account a nation’s different culture and history.
EUBULLETIN: There have been lots of hopes pinned to the Arab Spring movement but, especially in light of the recent developments in Libya, Egypt and Syria, some observers have argued that ‘Arab Spring’ has turned into ‘Arab Winter’. They say that the development towards a greater democracy, human rights and civil liberties has now been reversed. Do you share this view?
Nada Dhaif: Well, let’s use the right terminology here because whoever called this the ‘Arab Spring’ was wrong. Any revolution will take its course and cannot finish in one season. So there is still summer, winter and so on – any transition to democracy takes time. It is absolutely fine if it takes years and years to achieve. But in this, let’s call it ‘Arab Awakening’, what is happening is that people now have raised up and they are aware of their demands, their needs, aware of their legitimate rights – and they are calling for them.
EUBULLETIN: In one of your earlier interviews you suggested that a successful transition to democracy cannot be achieved by using peaceful means. To that end, would you characterize the Middle East as a violent region?
Nada Dhaif: No, what I am saying is that different democratic transitions have used different methods. For me, I am a great supporter of peaceful means and peaceful transitions and I wish that the dictators would consider giving the chance to the protestors to achieve their means peacefully. Like, for example, it was largely the case in Central and Eastern Europe in late 1980s. We do not want to have blood spilled on the streets. But, unfortunately, what we see around is sometimes violence from both sides, but mostly the violence comes from the authorities – well, there is always violence. And, in the Middle East, this problem is so wide-spread because the region is full of dictators. Now, it’s time for the people in the Middle East to stand up for their rights because they are no different than any people anywhere else in the world. It is only that the process is delayed and I hope that it will not reach the Middle East too late.
EUBULLETIN: Proponents of the so-called Asian concept of human rights argue that human rights are not universal because one has to respect and take into account regional context. Do you think that people across the MENA region are entitled to a distinct set of human rights that are different from those in Europe or the US?
Nada Dhaif: Well, politics can have different colors and the economics can have different colors as well, but the blood of all people has the same color. So, human rights are not defined universally by the United Nations, but rather it is just something that you naturally understand what is the difference between right and wrong. When you read all Holy Books, Koran and Bible, they all refer to one set of human rights. There is no difference in color or nation – whether you are based in Europe or in China. There are no country-specific human rights.
EUBULLETIN: Can you evaluate the last two or three years that you do not call Arab Spring but rather Arab Awakening? Do you think that the peoples across the MENA region have really woken up to fact that they have certain rights, along with duties, and are they ready to defend them in the long run?
Nada Dhaif: Yes, indeed – the awareness is in the process and if I am going to evaluate their willingness to fight for their rights, I would give them an ‘A’. But awareness is only the first step on a long road. Then, the next step is to get the experience and knowledge, along with a know-how how to apply this knowledge. Also, now you are aware of your rights, but what about your duties – your duties vis-à-vis your country and society? And the people have to learn all of this – and this is a long road. And, later on, their sense of the universe was surrounding them and sending out for the universal rights. The universe has rights that we should respect, not just the human rights. Now, you are aware of your problems and you try to solve them, you come up with the project, with the solution, you apply it, you make it alive, and then you try to help others. It is really a long process!