MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the pandemic exacerbated the economic stagnation and weak governance that fueled mass mobilizations in 2011 and again in 2019. Some MENA countries exploited Covid-19 to close civic space further in already unhospitable environments. Declining oil prices affected both the region’s oil producers, and countries that were beneficiaries of their investments. Political rivalries and regional conflicts were further complicated by escalating U.S.-Iran tensions. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the nascent democratic institutions that developed over the nearly two decades are more vulnerable due to weak governments and the potential drawdown of U.S. troops.
Despite these challenges, there are opportunities and potential openings for reforms. Tunisia continues to consolidate its democratic gains. Ongoing protests in Algeria forced President Bouteflika out of power after 20 years. Turkey witnessed surprising opposition victories in 2019 mayoral elections that represented a clear repudiation of President Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.
During 2020, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) grantmaking in the MENA region focused on safeguarding democratic progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting Tunisia’s democratic transition, promoting regional cooperation to address cross-cutting trends, and enhancing support for countries that are less accessible or open to direct assistance, such as Algeria. To restore public confidence in democratic institutions, NED programs provided assistance to protect civic space, to strengthen accountability and governance through independent media, and to promote pluralism while including marginalized groups in policy and decision-making. NED also expanded programs in Afghanistan, Morocco, and Lebanon to respond to political opportunities and guard against further democratic backsliding.
In the region’s authoritarian states, NED expanded programming when possible, such as in Egypt, to protect and defend civic space and democracy advocates. In the more repressive authoritarian states, including Iran and the Gulf States, NED continued support for civic groups–mostly operating in exile–to promote accountability. In the region’s conflict countries, NED maintained a modest presence with the aim of contributing to post-conflict political transitions.
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