Friday, February 4, 2011

USAID support to Egyptian Human Rights and Political Reform Groups

To gain insight into the anti-Mubarak movement, it is important to understand the type of support some of the key civil society organizations received from donors.  The democracy grants issued by USAID from 2005 through 2009 built the capacity of these organizations.  The major issue we confronted was whether to confine our funding to those non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that were registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity.  Such organizations, even those dedicated to human rights, operated under severe restrictions and were under the complete control of State Security.  On the other hand, it also was possible to provide grants to "civil companies," which were registered as private companies with a social purpose.  While these companies were required to coordinate informally with State Security, they operated with much more freedom than NGOs. 

USAID funded both types of organizations during this period.  In response to strong pressure from the Mubarak regime against funding civil companies, USAID restricted its funding to legally registered NGOs beginning in about 2009.  The human rights organizations funded by USAID after 2009 operated with less freedom and closer oversight from the State Security apparatus.

From 2005-2009, USAID approved over 50 grants valued at over $40 million. Egyptian NGOs included:
  • Alliance for Arab Women
  • Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS)
  • New Horizons
  • Environmental Quality International
  • South Egypt Development Association at Qena
  • Kanater
  • GAYD
  • Egyptian NGO Support Center
  • Association for the Development of Education
  • El Nakib Center
Some of the civil companies and law firms included:
  • Arab Penal Reform Organization
  • Andalus Institute
  • United Group
  • Ibn Khaldun Center
  • Afro-Egyptian Human Rights Organization
  • One World Foundation
  • Maat
Other grants went to American or international organizations that partnered with Egyptian organizations, including:
  • Internews
  • National Democratic Institute
  • International Republican Institute
  • International Foundation for Electoral Systems
  • American Bar Association 
  • America's Development Foundation
  • Freedom House
The grants funded a wide range of activities, including:
  • election monitoring;
  • promoting political engagement of youth, women, and the disabled;
  • using the media for civic education;
  • defending journalists;
  • promoting freedom of information;
  • providing legal assistance to the poor and vulnerable;
  • cultivating human rights activists;
  • strengthening civil society oversight of government;
  • increasing participation in local decision-making; and
  • building a human rights culture.
USAID examined the management controls of each organization receiving funding and provided assistance to strengthen these controls.  Consequently, the management skills and systems of these human rights organizations improved, making them eligible for larger grants from multiple donors.

USAID grants to human rights and political reform organizations helped them to undertake activities to expand rights and build citizen support for democracy.  More importantly, the grants also strengthened the capacity of these organizations to undertake the long struggle necessary to build a movement with enough cohesion to remove Mubarak from office.  As Egypt moves into a post-revolutionary environment, its success in putting in place viable democratic institutions will depend upon the capacity of Egyptian civil society organizations to play their role. It is essential that they focus on building their capacity as they take on increased responsibility to lead Egypt into the future. USAID and other donors should undertake a major initiative to build politically engaged civil society, regardless of the registration status of these organizations.

Rick Gold

1 comment:

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