Middle East and North Africa Program Highlights (2007)

Throughout 2007, governments of the Middle East and North Africa aggressively denied public demands for more political space, inclusiveness , transparency, and accountability. Repressive regimes were continuously challenged by small, but well established and rapidly growing, civil society groups that include journalists, academics, trade unionists, judges, and other democracy advocates. Because of these efforts, many democracy activists were the target of threats and harassment.

In Algeria, Bahrain, and Egypt, governments have severely restricted the ability of NED’s core institutes to interact with local organizations. Yet, despite these clampdowns against civil society and a growing fear of Islamists assuming power through elections, the reform and democracy agenda proved firmly entrenched in the region.

Democracy activists have not been deterred by harassment and have remained persistent in their efforts to push for more political space and raise citizen awareness of the need for democratic reform. In particular, journalists have courageously defied jail threats; led public debates on reforms; and exposed corruption, nepotism, and violations of human rights.

NED supported a wide range of programs that included:

  • advancing civic participation,
  • advocating for government accountability at the local and national levels,
  • consolidating the role and functions of parliamentarians, and
  • enhancing the capacity of local activists in the region.

NED also supported regional networks of democrats, training programs for women and young people, and initiatives on press freedom in North Africa, penal reform in the Arab world, and networking election monitors.

In conflict torn Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine, NED support was critical to the survival and growth of civil society organizations and the dissemination of civic and democratic values.

In Iraq, NED awarded over three dozen grants to local organizations in areas as diverse as Dhiqar, Suleimaniyya, Anbar, Babel, Najaf, Diwaniyya, Basra, Karbala, Salah-al-Din, and Baghdad. NED expanded its program and focused on supporting community-driven organizations that served at a provincial level as permanent resources for other NGOs.

NED also supported coordination and networking between grantees across ethnic and sectarian divides, focusing on civic education, human rights, capacity building, and conflict resolution, and continued to support programs that encouraged the participation of women and young people. Through CIPE and the Solidarity Center, NED strengthened the capacity and infrastructure of Iraqi workers’ organizations and business associations and supported their sustained participation in policymaking, legislation, and public institutions.

The resurgence of the narcotics trade and the revival of the Taliban posed new threats to Afghanistan’s fragile government. Increased terrorist attacks and powerful ex-warlords challenged the rule of law and undermined basic human and civic rights. In response to local demands, NED supported women’s groups, human and civil rights advocates, and civic representatives in rural areas; engaged local leaders and women in democracy programs; and helped raise awareness of civic values among government officials and community leaders.

With NED support, CIPE supported active involvement of parliamentarians, business associations and youth organizations in national dialogues on economic development. The Welfare Association for Development of Afghanistan (WADAN) worked with local power holders (maliks) and their local communities on democratic principles, encouraged voter turnout in the district elections, and strengthened the institutional capacity of the National Maliks Association.

Palestine faced another challenging year and a series of setbacks, including outbreaks of intra-Palestinian violence, which resulted in a virtually bifurcated national political system. The Palestinian Authority of president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank enjoyed international support, while Hamas governed from the Gaza Strip and stayed in isolation. Late in 2007, renewed peace talks between Israelis and the Palestinian Authority were launched by an American initiative without Hamas’ participation.

Against this backdrop, NED provided critical support throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip to labor unions, women’s and youth groups, independent media, and conflict mediation and resolution projects. Of particular note, the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution launched a 30-member committee for national reconciliation that is working to bridge the intra-Palestinian divide.

The EU accession process continued to propel Turkey’s transformation to full democracy. However, increased Kurdish terrorist attacks in the southeast incensed nationalist sentiment and triggered xenophobia against foreign assistance to civil society. NED programs continued to support:

  • human rights monitors,
  • legislative reforms on freedom of expression and association,
  • women’s political participation, and
  • parliamentarians’ outreach to civil society.

NDI and IRI partnered with civil society organizations, and trained candidates and activists of Turkey’s major political parties. With NED support, the Association of Monitoring Parliamentarians and Selected Officials (Tumikom) advocated for accountability and transparency in the Turkish parliament and published national reports on activities of the parliamentarians and the status of pre-election promises.

In Egypt, 34 constitutional amendments were rushed through approval in a referendum with low turnout and widely publicized protests by civil society. The amendments replaced pre-existing emergency law restrictions and empowered the state to control a persistent civil society movement. Yet, civic and democratic groups continued their reform and democracy campaign. NED supported programs on:

  • accountability,
  • expanding political participation,
  • monitoring and documenting human rights violations, and
  • promoting legal awareness among journalists about freedom of expression.

In a year-long campaign, the Arab Foundation for Supporting Civil Society promoted syndicates’ independence from the government and monitored and publicized violations against syndicates and NGOs. The Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies developed links and strengthened communication between members of Parliament and university students, and subsequently engaged them in monitoring parliamentary committees and parliamentary lobbying efforts.

In Yemen, NED-funded programs responded to local demand for integrating young people in the political process, promoted human rights, and supported independent media.  The CivicDemocratic Initiatives Support Foundation trained 400 local council members from 100 rural districts on cooperative and participatory planning, budgeting, transparency, and accountability, and conducted a citizen awareness campaign through radio programs, citizen dialogues with local council members, and a poster, pamphlet, and media campaign in six governorates. In another NED funded project, ARTICLE 19 worked with the 25-member Media Law Working Group and campaigned in support of its legislative reform agenda. 

Although parliamentary elections were held in Jordan, they resulted in little change for the country. Citizens voted primarily along family and personal ties, rather than based on parties and their platforms. NED support to NDI, however, strengthened women’s participation as voters and candidates and included the establishment of the Women Helping Women Political Action Committee, a peer network of women activists dedicated to actively supporting women’s candidacies for elected office. NED also continued to support the strengthening of labor unions, the development of a market economy, civic education initiatives, capacity building for emerging NGOs, and government accountability by media and civil society.

Free and fair elections in Morocco were held on time and the king supported reforms that continued at a slow pace. NED supported Moroccan democrats as they promoted civic education, especially among young people, strengthened the capacity of local groups to monitor political institutions, and expanded public freedoms.

The Moroccan Forum for Truth and Justice monitored the implementation of the state-sponsored Equity and Reconciliation Committee’s recommendations and brought together judges, political leaders, and academics to analyze the committee’s work. NDI utilized the People’s Mirror Research Center to educate political leaders and helped the Women’s MP Network to develop and disseminate materials educating voters on successes women have had as legislators.