From: TAMU Times
Posted: July 15, 2014
By: Daniella Wiedel, Texas A&M University School of Law Communications Specialist
FORT WORTH, Texas – Individual rights are often described as the cornerstone of a functional democracy. They are also the starting point for meaningful democratic reform and ultimately – a safer world. Texas A&M University School of Law’s associate professor Sahar Aziz stands by this reasoning and focuses her research primarily on civil rights, rule of law in emerging democracies in the Middle East, and how these issues relate to national security in a post-9/11 world.
Her research on two seemingly disconnected topics in fact share the common goal of protecting individuals from government overreaching and abuses of power, which she says could ultimately produce a less safe world. Because national security is often used to justify infringements on individual rights, both in authoritarian and democratic states, Aziz’s research and policy work pay particular attention to minorities most vulnerable to being targeted by the state. As such, she is among the leading experts on post-9/11 discrimination against Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities in the United States. Her research in the U.S. context informs her interdisciplinary research on the role of law in expanding or constraining individual rights in a post-revolutionary Egypt, which is currently experiencing a rise in terrorist acts after the deposal of its first democratically elected president.
Aziz’s research impacts the goal of achieving a secure nation and a safer world by exploring trends in cases of discrimination against ethnic minorities as she interrogates “facially neutral national security laws that in effect legitimize anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias under the guise of patriotism toward the nation” within the broader legal debate between formal and substantive equality.
In the Middle East, Aziz says, citizens are not interested in “copying” American-style democracy or abandoning cherished familial and religious values. “Rather, they seek thriving economies that provide equal opportunity in employment so that the best and brightest may lead their nations, offer quality education to all residents regardless of socio-economic status and transparency that prevents the pervasive corruption that is debilitating their public and private sectors.”
Societies with historically undemocratic political systems pursue democratic initiatives as a means of improving their quality of life. This includes access to food, education, employment and basic individual freedoms.
“For these reasons, it is important for Western academics and advocates to work directly with their counterparts at the local level in a particular country to tailor rule of law programs to suit the needs and desires of the local population,” Aziz said.
“It is incumbent on academics genuinely interested in peace and universal human rights to provide in-depth, objective analysis on how societies can peacefully transform to democratic political systems tailored to the values and norms of the local population,” Aziz said. “Equally important is preserving hard fought individual rights and liberties often taken for granted in the U.S.” It is in times of national insecurity that such efforts are most important.
Toward those ends, Aziz has presented at various civil rights’ conferences and policy panels in the past few months. In May, she attended the Doha Forum “Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future” to connect with international leaders and share her research addressing the legal and policy challenges facing the Middle East as well as U.S. foreign policy. In June, she gave a presentation on the latest developments in U.S. civil rights law at Alexandria University College of Law and conducted a training workshop to Egyptian lawyers and activists in Alexandria, Egypt, on how freedom of information laws can be employed to bolster transparency and rule of law (read more).
Her most recent law review articles at the intersection of critical race theory and civil rights law interject into the literature the unique perspectives of Muslim women. Her cutting edge work has led to invitations to testify before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She has also been invited to present her work at UCLA School of Law, Yale Law School, the University of Texas, St. John’s School of Law and Georgetown Law Center, to name a few.
As part of Texas A&M University’s objective to bring together faculty of various disciplines to solve problems, she will present her current research “Judicial In(ter)dependence in Post-Revolutionary Egypt” at the Texas A&M Qatar campus to students and faculty in the fall of 2014. Over the past few years, she has been invited to participate as a panelist in multiple public policy forums, including at the Atlantic Council, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights and the Middle East Institute.
In the Middle East context, Aziz predicts the next generation is likely to transform the relationship between the state and the population from mere subjects to engaged citizens. “But, this will come only after decades of strife and significant sacrifices in life and liberty by various political actors,” she said.
Read more about Aziz's recent collaboration with Egyptian universities, or explore her SSRN publications page, for a sample of her work.
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Media contact: Daniella Wiedel, Texas A&M University School of Law Communications Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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