Transnational Human Rights Networks and Human Rights in Egypt

Neil Hicks

The “Spiral Model" of Human Rights Socialization

In 1999 three political scientists, Thomas Risse, Stephen Ropp, and Kathryn Sikkink, published a book that sets out a theory of how human rights change occurs within particular states and that demonstrates how international human rights norms and the activities of transnational human rights advocacy networks impact human rights conditions.1 The book contains eleven case studies that apply the theory to human rights developments in diverse countries from different geographical regions.2 The authors conclude, ‘‘our case-study evidence strongly suggests that the spiral model has applicability in strikingly diverse domestic circum- stances.’’3 All of the countries in their sample showed substantial progress along the spiral toward improved respect for human rights, apart from Tunisia.

The theory developed by Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink is of great importance to human rights advocates, who form the component parts of transnational human rights advocacy networks. If we can understand the factors that contribute to or cause positive human rights change, then we can be more effective in accomplishing our goals of promoting and protecting human rights. The utility of the theory is that it sets out in a systematic manner the often unstated assumptions on which much of the work of what might be referred to as the human rights establishment is based.

The case of Egypt is a difficult one for any theory of positive human rights change because there has been so little of it. In this chapter I will apply the spiral model to the Egyptian case, thereby illuminating the

points among the interactions between different actors involved in the

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process of implementatiing international standards where the process appears to have stalled. In this way, I will seek to provide an explanation of the failure of transnational human rights networks to bring about substantial human rights improvement despite decades of effort by diverse local and international actors.

The spiral model takes into account four levels of interactions in the “socialization process by which domestic actors increasingly internalize international human rights norms.’’4 These are

  • • interactions between norm-violating governments and their domestic society;
  • • interactions between the domestic opposition and transnational human rights networks;
  • • interactions among transnational advocacy networks, international organizations, and Western powers;
  • • interactions between transnational networks, international organizations, Western powers, on the one hand, and norm-violating governments on the other.

The theory further identifies three modes of social interaction that operate during the ‘‘phased socialization process’’: strategic bargaining and instrumental rationality; arguing and persuasion; and institutionalization and habitualization.5

Five phases of development are put forward as being part of the spiral model of human rights change. In a time of repression, the first phase, the norm-violating government tends to respond to criticism by denying the validity of human rights norms. Thus, the second phase is denial. Under sustained governmental and nongovernmental pressure the norm-violating government makes tactical concessions to human rights—the third phase of the spiral. As a result, the margin of maneuver for the norm-violating government is limited and pressure builds for either a regime change or a controlled liberalization. The fourth phase of the spiral comes when human rights norms achieve prescriptive status—when states ratify international human rights treaties and make them applicable in domestic law. The fifth and final phase comes when the government demonstrates rule-consistent behavior—when human rights are applied in practice.

The book makes a persuasive case for the application of this theory to case histories where positive human rights change has taken place, that is, in ten out of the eleven countries examined. It shows the inadequacy of alternative theories of why human rights change occurs to account for the developments in these countries. The theory strongly suggests

that positive human rights change is likely to occur because denial of the

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validity of international human rights norms has become an increasingly untenable position for norm-violating states to hold, and once tactical concessions are made, by, for example, ratifying international instruments, then the pressure for change only increases. The authors view ‘‘a fully mobilized domestic opposition with transnational links’’ as a virtually irresistible force for change. Moreover, they suggest that the power of international norms is only increasing with time. Overall, the theory provides a generally optimistic outlook for human rights implementation throughout the world.

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