NGOs in the Arab World Post-Arab Uprisings: Domestic and International Politics of Funding and Regulation
NGOs in the Arab World Post-Arab Uprising is a collection of field-based research that contributes to the literature on the impact of the Arab Uprisings on civil society throughout the Middle East. It does so by examining the development of non-governmental organizations in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Palestine.
With Introduction by Noura Erakat.
Purpose of Study
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 have successfully 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 international 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 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 is a Yemeni writer and researcher based in Yemen.
Wahid Farchichi is Professor of Law at the University of Tunis and president of the Tunisian Association for the Defense of Individual Freedoms.
Menna Omar is a staff researcher of international law, particularly humanitarian and human rights law at the Legal Agenda.
Firas Jaber & Iyad Al Riyahi are 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.