Council of Europe and Arab Spring

Ever since a desperate man in Tunisia burned himself to death last December, pro-democracy movements have exploded across the Arab world. The revolutionary wave of demonstrations continues to seize our attention, raising headlines and hopes that democracy can replace dictatorship.

After Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland visited Tunisia in February and offered the Council of Europe's practical cooperation, efforts are underway – from the Parliamentary Assembly and the Venice Commission, to the Pompidou Group and the North-South Centre.

The Council of Europe supports women’s rights in Africa and the Middle East

Women have been at the forefront of the Arab Spring. Many relished the promise of positive change when a series of democratic uprisings erupted in Tunisia and spread across Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and the Gulf.

Women took a stand for civil society across the region and strove for a new sense of equality, long suppressed under old, patriarchal regimes.

"By offering a platform to speak out for women's rights, the Council of Europe plays its part to keep women's rights in Arab Spring countries in focus", said author and journalist Souhayr Belhassen, joint winner of the Council of Europe's North-South Prize this year. During a visit to Strasbourg on 12 March 2012, she highlighted a petition published worldwide and signed by thousands of people – including celebrities – urging Arab Spring countries to treat women with dignity, equality and respect.

On the occasion of women's day, Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said: "It is important for all of us to recognise the contribution of women in driving progress and reform, and it is essential that women's voices are now heard in building new Arab societies, and in fighting discrimination and stereotypes. If women are again left out, the promising Arab Spring could become a new winter."

© Antoine Walter / Tunisia, 15 January 2011

Atrás Equality after the Arab Spring – women call for change at Parliamentary Assembly

Equality after the Arab Spring – women call for change at Parliamentary Assembly

Strasbourg, 24.04.2012 - In a resolution adopted on 24 April 2012, PACE invites countries in the southern Mediterranean that have recently moved towards democracy to introduce reforms "to enhance the status of women and eradicate all forms of discrimination against them", and to promote women's representation in elected public bodies. According to the Assembly, such countries should also bring legislation in the area of family and personal status law into line with international human rights standards, and introduce a legal framework to prevent and prosecute all forms of violence against women.

As proposed by the rapporteur, Fatiha Saïdi (Belgium, SOC), the PACE also invites the countries of the region "to consider the prospects for parliamentary dialogue offered by the status of Partner for Democracy, the Moroccan parliament having been the first to be granted this status in June 2011.

Lastly, the Assembly welcomes the initiatives taken by the Secretary General and a number of Council of Europe bodies to establish closer dialogue with the countries of the region, especially Morocco and Tunisia. It calls on the Committee of Ministers to pursue this course of action through political dialogue and country-specific action plans – drawn up in consultation with the authorities of the countries concerned – whilst ensuring that gender equality and the enhancement of the status of women are high priorities.

In July 2011, Olfa Belhassine, journalist for the Tunisian daily "La Presse", visited Strasbourg to report on the Council of Europe. "In a situation of transition, things are far from simple," she said. She stressed the threat not only of Islamic fundamentalists, but also counter-revolutionaries supporting former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for 21 years. "More than ever, we need journalists to reveal to the public what is happening here, and welcome Council of Europe support for press freedom and democracy."

An award-winning journalist, Olfa Belhassine is not only a top reporter for the Tunisian daily "La Presse", but has also published articles on the Arab Spring this year in major French publications including "Le Monde" and "Libération".