Middle East and North Africa
2011 saw the end of decades of political stagnation in MENA countries, raised citizens’ expectations, and brought about a new political dynamic. At this defining moment in MENA’s history, NED extended a critical lifeline of solidarity and support to embattled civic rights and media groups, policy advocacy forums, democracy coalitions, and youth movements. Throughout the region, NED reached out to the new generation of media organizations, youth bloggers, and citizen journalists who were energized by the Arab spring and the spread of digital technology. In particular, NED increased its support to independent media groups, human rights monitors, and advocates for democratic ideas and values.
NED partners provided citizens with unique access to news, platforms for human rights networks, informational tools that will strengthen grassroots activism, and forums on the benefits of democratic governance. Through NED support, democrats benefited from technical support in collecting information and broadcasting it within and beyond their countries’ borders. Local activists, civil society groups and networks reached out to each other in search of best practices, effective tools and advanced trainings on a wide range of advocacy, reform and transitional issues. With the rise of political Islam, NED supported programs that integrated Islamic values and democracy as well as regional exchanges and networks. NED partners exchanged information, shared experiences, utilized resources, and coordinated their campaigns and networks.
With NED support, civic groups in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya participated in complex transitional process in building and shaping national and political institutions. NED partners, especially women and youth, established and led public debates and lobbied decision makers to uphold democratic reforms. NED focused on established and newly-formed independent trade unions, professional syndicates, and owners of small businesses, and developed their capacity to influence public policy and advocate reform. In addition, NED expanded its support to policy forums and advocacy groups seeking to map out feasible political and public policy reform proposals, educate public officials and institutions, and advocate for democratic reforms.
In Jordan and Morocco, citizens openly called for elected accountable governments under constitutional monarchies. For the first time, these monarchs pledged constitutional reforms at the expense of their sovereign powers. Citizen demands focused on constitutional amendments, empowering parliament, strengthening local government, holding freer elections, setting up independent national commissions, and easing restrictions on political and civic participation. NED expanded its support to include a new generation of media-savvy and politically active civil society groups, especially women and youth. At the national and provincial levels, NED partners formed advocacy networks and facilitated policy forums.
In Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine, citizens in conflict zones confronted dysfunctional governments and public institutions afflicted with rampant corruption. With NED support, civil society advocated for accountability, better legislations and inclusive national policies. NED partners strengthened citizen-state relationships, engaged local officials on budgets and priorities, forged nationwide alliances, worked with parliament on national agendas, and disseminated civic and democratic values. They campaigned on themes that united local factions on electoral law, labor law, and greater private-sector participation.
In closed countries, NED provided critical support to courageous human rights defenders and persistent women and youth groups. In the Gulf, superficial reforms and meaningless pledges failed to quell street demands for power sharing and accountability. Gulf rulers leveraged their oil-wealth to subsidize citizens’ cost of living in expectation of their acquiescence to ongoing authoritarian kingdoms. Algeria too increased public sector salaries and promised reforms but failed to silence public demands for accountability and power sharing. Its government used brutal force against street protests and banned local NGOs from accepting foreign funding. In Syria, relentless street protests broke decades of authoritarian rule and brought about new voices. Spontaneous youth groups organized mass street protests throughout Syria.
In a year colored with the Arab spring, Iran’s Islamic republic intensified its repression and prevented any form of dissent or street protest. In such tough environments, NED supported human rights networks, independent journalists, and advocates of democratic ideas and values. NED brought activists in these countries together with their counterparts in regional and sub-regional networks to exchange information, improve their communication tools, and raise their profile.