The mass demonstrations, known broadly as the Arab Spring, were a prelude to the ousting of heads of state and regime leaderships in Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. They were not just a means, but also an end in themselves. Despite arguments over whether this ongoing period of mass protests and revolutions that rocked Arab Spring countries should now be seen as a ‘spring’ or a ‘winter’, its inception proved an important moment for human rights within the Arab world. This was important not so much in terms of securing human rights—as this has rapidly proven a to be a transitional period, full of uncertainty—but rather in terms of what these protests implied about our understanding of human rights, as well as the way we design human rights advocacy and enforcement strategies.

This paper consists of two distinct but related arguments; (i) a theoretical one, that attempts to conceptualize the Arab Spring, and examine the ability of human rights theories to foretell it; and (ii) a pragmatic dimension that examines constructivist (bottom-up) and realist (top-down) dynamics of human rights development prior to the Arab Spring.

On the basis of these two arguments, and some insight on the Arab Spring, this paper challenges prevailing national and international approaches to human rights advocacy and compliance mechanisms in Arab Spring states.

The political and social contexts of Arab Spring countries have varying characteristics. Levels of activism by civil society actors also vary. As such, this paper looks at the broad common features of human rights policies and understandings in the region and how they may be reconstituted more effectively in order to reinvigorate human rights advocacy. It uses a reflective approach from a national practitioner’s perspective to theorize the Arab Spring and explore a more profound and sustainable approach to the general respect and protection of human rights post Arab Spring.

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