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Tuesday, 04 August 2020

Abdul-Rahman Al-Yousifi: Fighter for human rights

Walid M Abdelnasser , Wednesday 3 Jun 2020
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On 25 May, the Moroccan people, the Arab nation and all the forces of freedom, progress and peace in the world lost an exceptional figure and one of the most outstanding symbols of the struggle for human rights, justice and democracy at the Arab and global levels in the late Abdul-Rahman Al-Yousifi, who died at the age of 96. 

Al-Yousifi was a former prime minister of Morocco and a former leader of the prominent left-wing Moroccan political party the Socialist Union of Popular Forces. However, more significantly in my view was his identity as a freedom-fighter, an advocate of democracy and a believer and activist in the cause of social justice. I will confine myself here to addressing only some aspects of the Arab and international roles of the late Abdul-Rahman Al-Yousifi. 

When I was living in Geneva in the mid-1980s to pursue my graduate studies, I was part of an extended group of Arab graduate students of different nationalities. There were Algerians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Moroccans, Palestinians, Syrians and Tunisians. Almost all of us were studying the social sciences or humanities at various academic institutions in Geneva, and we were fortunate enough to meet and discuss with two great Arab figures, the late Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella and the late Moroccan prime minister Abdul-Rahman Al-Yousifi.

 In the course of such informal gatherings, this group of Arab young people had the unique chance to listen to, learn from and interact with these two extraordinary Arab figures regarding their views on issues that have long been considered central to the pan-Arab conscience, particularly among Arab youth. These issues varied from the Palestinian question and the dream of Arab unity to the realities and prospects for popular demands such as for freedom, democracy, social justice, equality, human rights and the empowerment of women and young people, all of which have been priorities for the Arab people for decades. 

International issues were also discussed in such informal settings. They particularly included attempts to explain what was happening in the former Soviet Union at the time, particularly during the Gorbachev era and the package of reforms being put together under the headings of “Glasnost” and “Perestroika”. They also witnessed discussions of alternative scenarios for the future world order and prospects for the Cold War.

Abdul-Rahman Al-Yousifi’s contributions were very rich and covered many diverse areas of public life as befitted his role and influence that for many decades went beyond the national borders of Morocco and left an imprint on the whole Arab nation as well as at the global level. He was a firm believer in Arab nationalism, Arab unity and pan-Arab action throughout his life, including through his leading role as an advocate of human rights in Morocco and the Arab world. His pivotal role in the establishment of the Arab Organisation of Human Rights (AOHR) in 1983 should be highlighted, with his serving not only as a co-founder, but also as a member, vice-president and member of the board of trustees until the last day of his life. 

Al-Yousifi also chaired the committee that successfully led the organisation’s struggle to acquire observer status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

He played an equally leading role in the Arab Lawyers Union, explained by the fact that he was an outstanding lawyer as well as a pioneer in the defence of human rights and individual and collective freedoms. He was elected a member of the Permanent Bureau of the Arab Lawyers Union and later its assistant secretary-general. 

At the pan-Arab level, even before the independence of his own country Al-Yousifi took many initiatives to defend and promote the Palestinian cause, particularly in Europe, using his mastery of the French language in order to do so. His role in this regard reached the degree of his defending in his capacity as a lawyer a number of Palestinian militants who had been put on trial in various European courts. 

His commitment to the Palestinian national question was demonstrated on many occasions throughout his long life. He also never spared efforts prior to the independence of Algeria in 1962 to support the Algerian struggle for national independence, particularly after the launch of the Algerian Revolution on 1 November 1954.

Besides being a legendary figure in Morocco and a pan-Arab historical figure, the late Abdul-Rahman Al-Yousifi was also an internationalist who consistently stood on leftist ground at the ideological and political levels. His convictions helped him to formulate his stands on many global issues. 

Just one example of this internationalist dimension of his life, an outcome of his fight for individual and collective human rights, on the one hand, and his leftist point of departure, on the other, was Al-Yousifi’s membership of the international court established in the 1960s to examine crimes committed in the war in Vietnam.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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