While Egypt’s civil society plays an important role in defending civilian rights and promoting development, civil society organizations frequently find themselves under criticism. Our contributions are belittled. Our work is obstructed. Our motivations are called into question.
To counter these ongoing distortions, my organization, the Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies, launched a community advocacy campaign, in cooperation with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its implementing partner The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) to raise awareness about the need to defend freedom of association and lift the restrictions on civil society.Specifically, we developed two short films about the role of civil society and the benefits it provides to regular citizens. The first film addresses the question of “What is Civil Society?” by summarizing the role civil society organizations play in modern day Egypt, and highlighting several examples of our impact in education, health, and promoting civic freedoms and rights.
The second film addresses funding for civil society organizations, particularly contributions from international donors. This issue has generated a heated debate over the past few years, and many have tried to cast doubt on our work by highlighting our partnership with international donors. We tackled this issue by discussing the reasons why international donors provide funding for Egyptian civil society, what types of activities and services they provide, and how these activities contribute to the development of society and the economy.
To supplement these films, we produced two research papers: the first provided answers to questions about the funding of civil society, and the second pointed out several flaws in an Egyptian law which, which regulates our activities and constrains our ability to effectively serve our communities.
As a result of this campaign, the general public and the media began to pay attention. A dialogue was launched about the role of civil society and the campaign against our work. In particular, Dream TV, an Egyptian TV station, aired portions of our videos and provided a platform for two of our representatives to explain the purpose of civil society and the concept of foreign funding to the Egyptian public. In addition, several newspapers and online websites reported on our campaign and films.
While many challenges remain for organizations like mine in Egypt and around the region, we are hopeful that our efforts help expand the role that civil society can play in the democratic transitions underway and increase the role for citizen voices. Our work to promote freedom of association in Egypt and lift the restrictions imposed on Egyptian civil society will continue. Over the past few years we have learned that the united voice of citizens cannot be ignored. By making citizens more aware of the important role civil society plays, we are helping our democratic transitions succeed.