NGOs in the Arab World Post-Arab Uprisings
11 October 2015
The Arab Uprisings that began in December 2011 in Tunisia have created a series of ongoing processes throughout the Arab world. Massive popular movements led to the removal of long-standing autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen. International intervention and an armed rebel movement also led to the removal of Libya’s head of state. Today, the uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria have become consumed by civil war driven by proxy regional interests. While revolutions, and counterrevolutions, continue in nearly all of these countries, until late 2011 they were sites of unfettered optimism and euphoria.
Whatever could be said about the varied meanings of these movements, Arab populations hadsuccessfully asserted themselves as active subjects constitutive of the state rather than its indistinguishable and expendable objects. In this context, civil society within the Arab world became very “sexy” among scholars, donors, and governments alike. This piqued interest generated new funding opportunities, new exchanges of expertise, new studies, and hundreds of conferences all eager to explore and explain what had happened, what was happening, and what was going to happen next.
The creation of new organizations, non-profit corporations and non-governmental organizations alike, were among the primary consequences of such inter national interest. Despite their salient role, the precise status of these organizations (i.e., number, origins, funding sources) and their implications has received little scrutiny. The dearth of such research has left a gaping hole in the analysis of transformative social change and ongoing conflict throughout the region.
This research initiative, co-sponsored by The Legal Agenda, the Arab Studies Institute, and the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, seeks to contribute to this scarce literature in four contexts: Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Palestine. While foreign funding led to the creation of new opportunities for otherwise marginalized communities in Tunisia, in Egypt, new regimes targeted Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as sources of national discord and instability. Meanwhile, in Palestine, where NGOs have proliferated since the early nineties, professional activism has supplanted popular mobilization and helped to contain, rather than resolve, the conflict. In Yemen, the Uprisings marked a regression for NGO development and intensified sectarian divisions between them. The aim of this research initiative is to explore these dynamics more thoroughly.
The research findings are not exhaustive and can be further developed. For this reason, they are collated here as a Working Paper Series. Their purpose is to provide an empirical basis upon which to develop research. They can also be the first pieces in a region-wide research initiative that includes other sites of significant or incremental change including Libya, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, and Kuwait. In addition to expanding the scope of these findings, the research initiative can also benefit from greater depth. In particular, a thorough literature review on civil society organizations stands to significantly enrich this Working Paper Series.
Majid Al Muthhaji
Yemeni writer and researcher based in Yemen
Professor of Law at the University of Tunis and President
of the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Freedoms
Staff researcher of international humanitarian and human rights law at the Legal Agenda
Firas Jaber & Iyad Al Riyahi
Palestine-based researchers with Al Marsad, a community
initiative aimed at evaluating the intellectual, institutional, and colonialist frameworks that produce poverty, exclusion, and social discrimination through the study of social and economic policies
Forum on Arab and Muslim Affairs (FAMA) is the research arm of the Arab Studies Institute. It produces and oversees ASI’s research projects on overarching issues related to the Arab and broader Muslim worlds, including the Middle East and North Africa. The forum is the home of ASI's Knowledge Production Project, the Political Economy Project, among others. All FAMA projects are operated by the Arab Studies Institute, a nonprofit organization that produces and scrutinizes knowledge on matters related to the Arab world and its relations.