Let's review what the American government knows about its exciting new coalition of "Sunni moderates":
The Basic Law does not provide for freedom of speech or the press, and the government generally did not respect these rights in practice. According to the Basic Law, the media's role is to educate the masses and promote national unity. Media outlets can be banned if they promote mischief and discord, compromise the security of the state and its public image, or offend man's dignity and rights. The government continued to restrict freedom of speech and press and censored articles critical of the royal family or Islam. The authorities routinely censored foreign print sources....
The print media were censored and privately owned; some had close ties to members of the royal family. Journalists practiced self-censorship by refraining from direct criticism of government officials. A media policy statement and a national security law prohibit the dissemination of criticism of the royal family and the government. The government media policy statement urged journalists to uphold Islam, oppose atheism, promote Arab interests, and preserve cultural heritage. The Ministry of Information must approve the appointment of, and may remove, all senior editors. The government also provided guidelines to newspapers regarding controversial issues. The government-owned Saudi Press Agency expressed official government views. All newspapers in the country must be licensed by the government. With a license, newspapers are allowed to carry government advertisements which accounted for the largest sources of revenue for the newspapers... Authorities continued to ban government employees from criticizing the government. The government enforced existing laws based on Article 12 of the Basic Law that provides the state with the authority to "prevent anything that may lead to disunity, sedition, and separation." Accordingly, all public employees are enjoined from "participating, directly or indirectly, in the preparation of any document, speech or petition, engaging in dialogue with local and foreign media, or participating in any meetings intended to oppose the state's policies."... The government owned and operated most domestic television and radio companies. Government censors removed any reference in foreign programs and songs to politics, religions other than Islam, pork or pigs, alcohol, and sex.
On August 4, award-winning writer and women's rights activist, Wajiha Al-Howaider, was arrested on the causeway to Bahrain because she was holding a sign that read, "Give women their rights." She was released with a warning. On September 20, she was summoned and interrogated for six hours by the secret police for planning a peaceful protest on September 23, national day, by women demanding their rights. The secret police threatened her with the loss of her job at Saudi Aramco. Al-Howaider was released only after she signed a written pledge to cease human rights activities in the kingdom, including writing articles, organizing protests, and talking to the media. She was not allowed to leave the country for her home in Bahrain until September 28.
On September 27, the Court of Grievances dismissed the charges against the author of the popular novel, "Girls of Riyadh." A group of citizens filed charges against the author because she allegedly slandered society by writing a novel about socially unacceptable behavior by female citizens.
... The government continued to restrict academic freedom. The government prohibited the study of evolution, Freud, Marx, Western music, and Western philosophy. Some professors believed informants monitored their classroom comments and reported to government and religious authorities.
The government continued to restrict cultural events. Citing a 2003 royal decree that stated the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue obviates the need for individual cultural forums, the government closed Shi'a and Sunni cultural forums in the area of al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province. Cultural forums, particularly in Qatif, continue to operate. The government does not allow movie theaters and restricted the public showing of films.
... The government prohibited the establishment of political parties or any group that the government considered opposing the regime, or possibly overstepping the bounds of criticism by challenging the king's authority (see section 3). Any associations must be licensed by the MOI and comply with its rules and regulations.
... There is no legal recognition or protection of religious freedom, and it is severely restricted in practice.
A valuable partner in the battle to spread liberal values through the Middle East, no doubt.
The government's respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas. These included limitations on the right of citizens to change their government; a state of emergency, in place almost continuously since 1967; torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees; poor conditions in prisons and detention centers; impunity; arbitrary arrest and detention, including prolonged pretrial detention; executive branch limits on an independent judiciary; denial of fair public trial and lack of due process; political prisoners and detainees; restrictions on civil liberties--freedoms of speech and press, including internet freedom; assembly and association; some restrictions on religious freedom; corruption and lack of transparency; some restrictions on NGOs; and discrimination and violence against women, including female genital mutilation.
On September 7, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) reported that 81 detainees were tortured to death inside police stations between 2000 and 2004 and that 21 detainees were reportedly tortured to death in police stations between April 2004 and July 2005. EOHR further reported that detainees were kicked, burned with cigarettes, shackled, forcibly stripped, beaten with water hoses, and dragged on the floor.
According to HRW in a December 23 statement, "Torture is pervasive in Egyptian detention centers." There were numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated prisoners and detainees. Domestic and international human rights groups reported that the State Security Investigations Service (SSIS), police, and other government entities continued to employ torture to extract information or force confessions. In prominent cases, defendants alleged that police tortured them during questioning (see sections 1.e. and 2.c.). Although the government investigated torture complaints in some criminal cases and punished some offending police officers, punishments generally have not conformed to the seriousness of the offenses.
Principal methods of torture reportedly employed by the police and the SSIS included stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beating victims with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; using electrical shocks; and dousing victims with cold water. Victims frequently reported being subjected to threats and forced to sign blank papers for use against themselves or their families should they in the future lodge complaints about the torture. Some victims, including male and female detainees and children, reported sexual assaults or threats of rape against themselves or family members. While the law requires security authorities to keep written records of detentions, human rights groups reported that the lack of such records often effectively blocked investigations.
The Emergency Law--applied almost continuously since 1967 under a declared state of emergency--authorizes incommunicado detention for prolonged periods. Detentions under this law frequently were accompanied by allegations of torture. On April 30, the government extended the State of Emergency until May 2008. Following terrorist attacks in October 2004 and April and July 2005, the authorities conducted mass arrests of hundreds of persons allegedly linked to the lead suspects and reportedly tortured some of them in custody (see section 1.d.).
Authorities used force to disperse peaceful, unauthorized demonstrations. On May 25, opposition activists demonstrated at the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo to mark the one year anniversary of "Black Wednesday." (During the May 25, 2005 national referendum, pro-government thugs, allegedly including undercover security personnel, attacked several groups of opposition protesters and journalists, and sexually assaulted several women journalists and protesters.) In late 2005, the public prosecutor closed the investigation into these assaults, claiming that that it was not possible to identify the perpetrators, many of whom were documented on video as they assaulted opposition demonstrators and journalists. No police officers were prosecuted for the abuses.
On May 26, according to EOHR and other widely circulated reports, police tortured Kifaya activists Muhamed al-Sharkawy and Karim al-Shaeer, who had been detained in the aftermath of the May 25 demonstration, at the Kasr al-Nil police station. (The Kifaya, or "Enough," Movement staged multiple demonstrations throughout the 2005 calling for political reform.) According to Sharkawy's own account, police severely beat him at a building on Abdel Khalek Tharwat Street and then took him to Kasr al-Nil police station, where they tortured, and reportedly sodomized him. Police also beat Shaeer, detained him at the Kasr al-Nil police station, and transferred him to the custody of SSIS. A dozen Tora Prison detainees, all opposition and pro-democracy activists, launched a hunger strike on May 29 to protest Sharkawy's treatment, and other protests took place in front of the Doctors' syndicate on May 30 and outside the Kasr al-Nil police station on June 1. Sharkawy and Shaeer remained in detention without charge until their release in July.
In late November, the security forces detained a group of students in Cairo and Alexandria (including 11 Western citizens and an unknown number of Tunisians, Syrians, and Egyptians), apparently on suspicion of having connections to networks recruiting Islamist extremists to fight in Iraq. Some of the Western detainees claimed that the SSIS tortured them at the SSIS office in Nasr City (north Cairo) with beatings and electric shocks, administered while the detainees were blindfolded and handcuffed. The detainees also reported that the SSIS deprived them of sleep, and forced to watch as other detainees were tortured. In December, the Western students were deported. According to AI, the Tunisians remained in detention at year's end. There was no information available at year's end about the status of the Egyptian and Syrian students.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, during the year, police and security forces conducted large-scale arrests and detained hundreds of individuals without charge under the Emergency Law. Continuing a trend begun in 2005, thegovernment arrested and detained hundreds of activists affiliated with the banned-but-tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, generally for periods lasting several weeks (see section 1.e. and 2.b.). The government continued to use the Emergency Law under the official state of emergency to try non-security cases in the emergency courts and to restrict many other basic rights. Police also arbitrarily arrested and detained hundreds of persons involved with unlicensed demonstrations.
A beacon unto the nations!
And what of Jordan?
While the government respected human rights in some areas, its overall record continued to reflect problems. The following human rights problems were reported: Restrictions on the right of citizens to change their government; torture, arbitrary arrest, and prolonged detention; impunity; denial of due process of law; limited judicial independence; infringement on citizen's privacy rights; harassment of members of opposition political parties; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, movement, and on some religious practices; legal and societal discrimination against women, discrimination against persons of Palestinian origin; restrictions on labor rights; and abuse of foreign workers.
Following his July visit Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, described police and security forces practices using torture as "widespread." He stated there were many "consistent and credible" allegations of torture, which Nowak claimed were substantiated by forensic medical evidence. He noted that a number were difficult to verify because of incommunicado detention (see section 1.d.) by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Public Security Directorate (PSD) and the General Intelligence Directorate (GID).
Additionally, the Special Rapporteur reported that detainees at the Al Jafr Correctional and Rehabilitation Center were routinely subjected to corporal punishment. The Special Rapporteur also received many allegations of torture at various local police stations.
In a July 24 report, Amnesty International (AI), an international nongovernmental organization (NGO), alleged the systematic torture of political suspects. The most frequently alleged methods of torture included severe and prolonged beating with sticks, plastic pipes, ropes or whips, on the soles of the feet and elsewhere, sleep deprivation, extended solitary confinement, forced standing in painful positions for prolonged periods, threats of extreme violence or sexual or physical abuse of family members, and physical suspension. In the AI publication, Your Confessions are Ready for You to Sign, defendants charged with security-related offenses before the State Security Court claimed that they were tortured to obtain confessions and subjected to physical and psychological abuse while in detention. According to AI, suspected Islamists and Palestinian-origin citizens were more likely to be tortured.
And the beat goes on, da da dum da da dum.
It is good to see these human rights reports appear. Local press in Egypt (at least) has leaped upon the reports and featured them prominently. On releasing the reports, a tired-sounding Condoleeza Rice said:
"With the release of this year's reports we are recommitting ourselves to help new democracies deliver on their people's aspirations for a better life. We are recommitting ourselves to stand with those courageous men and women who struggle for their freedom and their rights. And we are recommitting ourselves to call every government to account that still treats the basic rights of its citizens as options rather than, in President Bush's words, the non-negotiable demands of human dignity."
Yes, but. These hard-hitting human rights reports were Congressionally mandated. American diplomacy over the last year has ostentatiously abandoned any pretence of caring about democratic reforms among its "Sunni moderate allies", at least. But perhaps this can be a fresh start, and the US can in fact "recommit" to caring about human rights and democratic reforms. So the question: will this "recommitting ourselves" mean anything in practice for our relations with these beacons of "moderation"? How exactly will we be calling these "moderate" torturing, demonstration-crushing, arbitrarily arresting, free speech-repressing governments to account? Just wondering.