Middle East and North Africa
The Arab spring broke decades of political stagnation in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), changing social dynamics and political landscapes across the region, raising expectations, and opening up massive opportunities for democratic growth. Prospects for democratic transitions were challenged by a tougher and more complex environment. Rapid political transformations through free elections unleashed a wide range of uncertainties including communal conflicts, worsening economies, deteriorating public services, energized radical and illiberal movements, and unmet expectations.
Despite serious setbacks in Egypt, increased violence in Libya, and protracted civil war in Syria, citizens’ desire for reforms remained strong. Newly energized populations have initiated a surge of political and civic initiatives and newly-born civic groups, coalitions, and political organizations. Despite their inexperience and limited capacity, many of these youthful groups have persevered, and their campaigns have spread from urban to rural areas and across borders.
Autocratic regimes in Iran, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia were challenged by the spread of digital technology, which has broken governments’ monopoly over mass communications and led to the proliferation of new media organizations, bloggers, and citizen journalists. NED extended a lifeline of support to embattled local rights and media groups, networking these groups to others in the region.
In the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco, citizens were openly calling for a genuine democracy with fully accountable governments under constitutional monarchies. In response, NED supported emerging advocacy and accountability groups at the local and national level, including national campaigns and networks on fundamental civil rights, and advocates of electoral reforms.
In war-torn Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, citizens lacked basic public services and suffered from dysfunctional governance, corrupt ruling elites, and an authoritarian and dependency culture. Civil society responded to such governance failures and advocated for accountability, better legislation and inclusive national politics. NED supported civil society efforts at local and national levels, and helped groups engage elected officials, set national agendas, forge nationwide alliances, and disseminate civic and democratic values.
Yemen sustained its fragile transition despite increased violence, terrorism, economic decline, separatist movements, and an enduring culture of political corruption that thrived under deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh. With heightened public awareness and a strong sense of political empowerment, a wide range of Yemeni groups have pressed the transitional government to deliver pledged reforms. NED increased its support to civil society and advocacy groups on constitutional, legislative, and institutional reforms in line with international norms.
Egypt’s transition was derailed by street protests and a conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, which arrested and jailed President Mohamed Morsi. Egypt was set back to Mubarak’s deep security state, and liberal and secular activists were intimidated and arrested. Egyptian courts and the Ministry of Justice have become favorite tools used by the government against its political and civic adversaries. Despite these challenges, civic forces have not been deterred and are pushing for a credible transition process, including inclusive, free, and fair elections. NED supported groups within critical sectors, including media, the private sector, and labor.
Tunisian civil society enjoyed a healthy and rapid growth. New groups continued to fill the new-found space and contribute to Tunisia’s democratic transition. When ongoing protests and gridlocked political parties threatened to derail the transition, Tunisian civil society brokered the deal that helped Tunis out of its crisis. NED expanded its support to civil society initiatives and reform advocacy on transitional justice, political inclusion of women and youth, promotion of civic values, accountability and transparency in the political and transitional processes, and public policy.
In Libya, the transition survived tribal feuds, regionalism, irregular fighters, and growing terrorist networks that are awash in arms and operate in stateless regions with open borders. The government implemented an ambitious transition roadmap, culminating with the successful election of a 200-member constituent assembly and a transitional government. NED supported emerging think tanks to inform policymaking, civic groups to disseminate democratic ideas and values, business associations to link economic and political reforms, and forums to engage citizens with local officials.
Mauritania cautiously proceeded in its reforms. NED supported nascent groups in promoting human rights and conflict resolution, youth and women’s inclusion in the political process, and local civic initiatives.
Despite conflict in Syria, NED supported independent media and human rights groups, helped local groups to work on long-term engagement of citizens looking towards transition, and supported activists, both inside and outside of the country, who are directly engaged with planning for more diverse citizen participation in the rule of a post-war Syria.
Turkey’s constitutional reforms were strained by raw politics, street protest, and increased social polarization. The government cracked down on the media and purged police and judicial officials. NED supported advocacy campaigns and initiatives combating discrimination, helped independent journalism, assisted the competitiveness and organizational capacity of national and local level political parties, and expanded citizen-state dialogue, separation of powers, and accountability.
Throughout the region, civil society in Arab countries increased cross-border cooperation, forming networks and coalitions and sharing platforms and experiences. NED helped regional networks forge alliances, share resources and skills, nurture newly formed groups, and increase their exposure to regional and international networks. NED supported regional networks that seek to integrate Islamic values and democracy, promote investigative journalism and reporting, and organize policy forums and resource centers on democratic transitions.