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Trends of development within civil society
Challenges and strategies in a sample of NGOs
23 March, 99
Dr. Alaa Shukrallah
Head of Training and Research Unit,
Development Support Center
Table of Contents
Civil society and the NGO movement………………………………………………………………
Civil society and different definitions: ………………………………………………………………
NGOs and their definitions:………………………………………………………………
Important milestones in the development of NGOs in Egypt………………………………………….5
The first phase: ………………………………………………………………
The second phase:………………………………………………………………
The third phase: mid-seventies- mid-eighties…………………………………………………………..5
A study of a developing trend within NGOs and civil society in Egypt ………………………..6
Essential features of t he organizations under study …………………………………………………….. 6
General Lessons and Common Challenges ………………………………………………………………
What does this trend represent? ………………………………………………………………
New impetus to the trend through international influence : …………………………………………7
Visions, missions and identified objectives ………………………………………………………………
Lessons and challenges to widening impact and addressing external challenges …………9
Pre and Post ICPD coalitions and widening impact …………………………………………………10
Institutional development challenges ? ………………………………………………………………
Sustainability challenges? ………………………………………………………………
NGOs and the new law ” a challenge to the future” ……………………………………………………12
The unique features of the NGO law Campaign : …………………………………………………….12
The impact of the campaign resulted in: ………………………………………………………………
In working towards analyzing and monitoring essential features and trends in the
development of the NGO movement in Egypt, this report attempts to identify some of the
important challenges and strategies of a group
of NGOs which the DSC has actively worked
with during the past two years.
The sample chosen includes nine NGOs and two coalitions. Five of these organisations
undertook strategic planning in addition to two coalitions through the assist ance of the DSC.
The nine NGOs, although coming from different backgrounds and have different missions and
entry points to development, share important features in their development. They all represent
independent initiatives, which developed mainly during the end of the eighties and beginning
of the nineties. Irrespective of their backg rounds and entry points they are essentially
advocacy and lobbying oriented rather than service provision oriented.
The two coalitions chosen represent two important initiatives of joint work between NGOs in
the area of women rights and gender equality. T hese initiatives took important impetus after
the International Conference of Population and Development (ICPD) and the Beijing
conference. They will be discussed at the end of the paper. In addition to these two coalitions
to which a strategic planning was undertaken the experience of a third coalition formed
around the issue of the NGO new law will be also briefly discussed.
The analysis depended on two major tools utilized in this relation namely findings from the
strategic planning processes, led by the office to some of the organisations, as mentioned
above, and a questionnaire (profile) built upon the major questions of strategic planning given
to the organisations.
The objective of the report is related to an important component of the mandate and mission
of the DSC. This component is related to assisting the exchange of experiences between
NGOs on the one hand, and helping identifying common challenges and strategies, which
NGOs meet and attempt to address on the other. The final aim is to assist in the process of
helping NGOs to place their roles within the over all picture of developing civil society in Egypt.
Civil society and the NGO movement
The term civil society goes back a long way in hist ory particularly during the rise of the role of
the state in the 18 th and 19 th century as a major actor in the organization of social and
economic development. However, the recent popularization of the term belongs mainly to the
eighties and nineties, reflecting a growing international interest in the concept.
The motives behind such interest vary widely, yet they could be summarized as follows:
1. The growing realization of the problems encountered in the role of the state whether
in the economic, social or political spheres. Th is fact was particularly enhanced after the
collapse of the “Socialist C ountries” of Eastern Europe.
2. The failures encountered in the development programs of many third world countries
during the post second world war era. These programs were carried out mainly through the
growing role of the state. A role which eng ulfed both the economic sphere as well as the
provision of services.
3. The need to encourage private sector wi thin the process of privatization and
economic restructuring with its concomitant c ontinuous decrease in the role of the state
particularly in the area of service provision.
4. The need to cushion the effects of the restructuring and the gradual but dramatic
withdrawal of the state from it s role in service provision and employment. These effects range
from making services increasingly of poorer q uality and more inaccessible to a large sector of
the population, to the dramatic increase in the rate of unemployment produced by these
5. The growing interest and developments in the arena of human rights generally and its
focus on the rights of many marginalised gr oups within society, particularly women.
Civil society and different definitions:
The different meanings given reflect different prevalent approaches to development.
In the widest sense the term is defined as “a mu
ltiple non state institution”; i.e., includes all
economic, social and political institutions and groups which function outside the state, that is
its military, police, legal, administrative, producti ve and cultural institutions, as well as political
Civil society hence, includes all groups and in stitutions organized and functioning outside
direct state hegemony. This starts from the sm allest unit the family, to kin groups, unions and
syndicates, societies, up to private business.
This definition constitutes many difficulties in our opinion. The major one is the demarcation
implied between private enterprise (regardless of its size) and the state, both in policies and
structures, at a time where state policies and legislation are increasingly directed mainly at
promoting free market and private business. On the other hand, existing mutual interaction
between state and private business makes it extr emely difficult to separate them from each
Therefore, for our purpose, and from the point of view of human development with emphasis
on the poor and marginalised groups, private bus iness and the profit sector will be excluded
from our definition.
The term “civil society” in this article will, hence, be used to denote all structures and
institutions lying outside the state institutions and the private for profit sector.
NGOs and their definitions:
Within the context of the growing interest in civ il society as a whole and in the role of NGOs in
particular, many initiatives to study the phenom ena and its significance have been carried out
during the past few years. These studies included attempts to develop a criteria to define an
In a study carried out by John Hopkin s University in the United States 1 the following criteria
for an NGO were given:
1. The organisation should have a formal st ructure, which is relatively permanent and
hence temporary groups, and non-institutionalized forms are discarded from the definition.
2. It should be a non-profit body and hence the definition discards organisations that
divide its profits on the members of its board. In this criteria cooperatives would be excluded
in addition to private for profit institutions.
3. It should be non-governmental; i.e., structura lly not attached to the government even
though the government could support it both technically and financially.
4. It should be self-governing and hence the definition discards any organisation
controlled by government or any other outside force.
5. Utilizes a degree of voluntary participation whether in its governing or its activities.
6. It should be a non-party organisation; i.e., not an appendage or a front of a political
party even though it could be involved in political activities.
Hence, the definition focuses on the idea that an NGO is an organized initiative that emerges
independently from groups within society representing common needs and common goals. It
is to be differentiated from civil society that it focuses on organized civil initiatives, which have
a mission and a purpose for its group members rat her than pre-given social structures such
as the family or a neighborhood etc.
However, in many of the Arab countries and in Egypt in particular, the state of NGOs in the
majority of cases comes far from this definition.
Amany Kandil, Civil Associations in Egypt.
Important milestones in the development of NGOs in Egypt
The history of NGOs in Egypt goes back to t
he end of the nineteenth century. However, this
history could be divided into three major phases:
– the first starts at the end of the ninete enth century up to the post second war world
– the second starts after the second world wa r up to the mid seventies (Nasserists era),
– the third starts in the mid seventies t ill today. However, the eighties represent an
important leap in such development.
The first phase:
This phase is characterized by being mainly charity in its orientation. Expatriates’
communities developed social support systems for specific groups within the society. Inputs
from missionary organizations were among the fi rst to develop such independent institutions
to be followed by rich merchants who were in volved in charity work. Within the latter
category, women played an important role, a fa ct which helped them break the socially
enforced segregation which kept women with in the private /domestic domain.
The role of such institutions ranged from help to the poor and needy with an aim of keeping
them out of the streets as well as protecting society from social unrest.
As the role of the state in services was minimal the NGO sector played an important role in
developing institutions for services provision. Expatriate comm unities, for example, utilized
their resources to build services for their members, such as: schools, hospitals, etc.
The areas covered by the service focused mainly on fields such as health, disability, and
education in addition to social and cultural activities. For example, TB and Leprosy
sanitariums were among the first health services to be developed by the NGO sector.
The second phase:
This phase is characterized by the growing role of the state with the final monopolization of
the state over all forms of the public domain including social, political and economic spheres.
The state becomes not only the political power but also the main service provider. Mistrust of
all activities outside state control reaches its ma ximum during this era to be crowned with the
passing of law 32, 1964 for organizing NGOs activities.
Within this law, absolute hegemony of the state through MOSA over NGOs is established. In
addition, many NGOs are taken over by the ministry and new ones formed by the ministry.
The majority of NGOs that developed during th is era become near appendages of the state.
The approach of NGOs in general, although still carrying the charity orientation, becomes one
of bureaucratic professionalism. Although the r ange of activities extends, certain areas of
service provision such as formal education beco me outside the domain of NGOs in addition to
large health enterprises.
The third phase: mid-seventies- mid-eighties
The seventies saw the emergence of a strong democratic movement within the student body
all over Egypt. The movement, although initially triggered by the national issue, i.e. the 1967
defeat and the occupation of Egyptian land by Israel , targeted the complete political reform of
Egyptian society, and at its head achieving democratization and full participation by the
people in decision making. The student movement whose direct influence can be traced until
1977 (the bread riots) had helped stir a similarly strong democratic and social movement
among other factions in society, mainly the professional syndicates and lastly among the
factory workers, who from the mid-seventies saw numerous strikes stating their own demands
for social justice. From the body of this movement, which had a strong leftist and progressive
character, sprang many of the later institutions in society following the failure of either the
professional syndicates or the political parties in embodying or realizing their particular
experience or vision. The student body itself, however, since the mid-seventies became the
target of the Islamist movement.
Therefore, although during this phase many of th
e characteristics of the previous two phases
continue to prevail, a new growing trend could be discerned. The growing trend is
characterized by the growth of independent init iatives with more orientation towards lobbying
and advocacy rather than service provision.
The areas of activities include components such as human rights, workers rights, child rights
etc. A move from charity orientation and burea ucratic professionalism to the domain of rights
is among the most important features of this phase.
In addition, many of the community based organizations become more oriented towards
community involvement and empowerment challe nging traditional power structures in all
spheres of life. Focus of such organizations in their community work became directed to
widening space for communities at large and the most marginalised groups within them for
channeling their needs and organising to gain their rights. The growing trend in many cases
included the transformation of several traditi onal organizations with religious backgrounds
from the charity orientation to one of community development. As well as the development of
new organizations formed of activists from different backgrounds.
This development came about through the inte raction of different forces, and different
interests which were, even sometimes, conflicting. On the one hand, the growing international
interest in developing the role of NGOs as an alternative service provider met with the
growing interest of many activists to develop organic relations with their target groups. The
latter owes a lot of its ideas to the experience gained through the democratic movement of the
seventies as well as the experience of it s decline in the eighties and nineties.
Hence, economic restructuring and the forces behind it met with the need to develop genuine
people’s organizations particularly with the shor tcomings and the decline in political life.
A study of a developing trend within NGOs and civil society in Egypt
Essential features of the organizations under study
In the following sample, we will attempt to look at the development of the organizations under
study to discern common features as well as common challenges and the different strategies.
The organizations under study ranged from being local organizations to national ones.
However, it must be noted that even local organi zations in the main have national objectives.
This is very much related to the approach of these organizations where influencing national
policy and society at large is an important goal wi thin its strategy. Although fulfilling the criteria
of NGOs, the majority of the sample took t he form of civil non-commercial companies to by-
pass the restrictions and limitations of the law 32.
The vast majority of organizations under study were formally established in the beginning of
the nineties. The seeds of the initiative s are to be traced to the mid eighties.
The original location of the majority of organi zations is Cairo based, even though strategically
the organisations have out- reach programs and pl ans for other provinces. In addition they
are mostly Urban based. Howeve r important exceptions are two organisations located in the
South of Egypt and working with rural population.
The main fields of action ranged from general hum an rights to rights of specific groups such
as: women, workers, disabled, and children. This in addition to integrated community
The target groups hence included specific sector s of the population as well as the public in
general and policy makers.
Activities concentrate mainly on training, mobilization, awareness raising, lobbying and
advocacy. While to a lesser degree comes t he building of integrated, comprehensive,
community development models.
The goals and general missions focus on areas, such as: developing movements around
social issues and changing legislation, raisi ng general awareness on issues related to their
target groups to formation of alternative polic ies and strategies and developing demonstrative
grass root models and testing them. In addition, the concept of empowerment of their target
groups are a common feature whether related to specific sectors in the society such as
women, children, etc. to empowerment of the local communities at large.
In the area of funding most of the organi
zations started through member contribution
particularly through the preliminary phases of the grouping and formation of ideas.
However, the growing demand on the organisations on the one hand with the lack of
resources on the other, made it imperative for the organisations to think of the question of
finance, if impact is to be achieved.
The move towards institutionalization was hence concomitant with developing the required
infrastructure where both material and manpower resources could be made more readily
available on regular basis.
The above conditions pushed the organisation gr adually to request outside funding. The lag
between commencing activities and procuring funding on average is about 4-5 years.
General Lessons and Common Challenges
What does this trend represent?
In contrast with the previous historical trend s, the nucleus and driving force behind the new
trend emerged mostly from activists in the nat ionalist and democratic youth movement of the
sixties and seventies. The movement, which star ted mainly in the student’s arena, was later
to be followed by different factions in the society such as workers and other professionals.
The trend came as a response to a need for a move from the general political national and
democratic platforms towards establishing org anized civil structures for particular groups
within the society.
This response was strongly driven by the decline and ebbing of the general national
movement with its overall political orientation and the many lessons of failures of its various
The general orientation of this trend was to view development from a rights perspective,
rather than a charity or a professional persp ective. In addition, the concepts of involving
communities and empowerment were central to these new organisations.
The founding membership and the fields of work of the organisations established was
affected by the professional background of t he founders, in addition to the target groups
identified by them.
Particularly at the beginning the nucleus of some of these organizations was made up of
different professional groups such as doctors, lawyers, workers, while others such as women
organizations were made up of women activi sts from different professional background.
In the majority of cases, this make up witnessed important changes in its development,
incorporating other disciplines as well as members of the target groups.
New impetus to the trend through international influence:
During the beginning of the nineties, growing international interest in civil society and NGOs
movement as represented by the Internati onal Conference for Population and Development
(ICPD1) and Beijing gave a new imputes to t he general development of the NGO movement.
This impetus was reflected in turn on the new trend.
The concepts of community involvement participation and empowerment, advocacy and
lobbying became more popularized as a result in the general arena of NGOs in Egypt.
Service provision oriented NGOs started to adopt the new concept, while others paid lip
service to it. However, the atmosphere creat ed by this development, made conditions more
favorable for the spread of this growing trend in Egypt.
On the other hand, the events as well as its concomitant atmosphere created wider space for
this trend and its constituent organizations to have a bigger impact in the general discourse in
society. In addition, interaction between this trend and other more traditional organisations as
well as international ones was strengthened.
The effects of this interaction and the opening
of this trend on new forces, previously not
perceived as important on its agenda, will have par adoxical impact on its further development.
In the aftermath of these events, an influx of new recruits entered these organizations. The
new recruits with different backgrounds repres ented a new generation that was attracted to
the particular fields of intere st targeted by these organizations as well as it’s general
conceptual framework and orientation.
This development gave new blood and vitality to the organizations on the one hand while
creating a dichotomy between the old and new generations in these organizations. The
interaction between the two generations resulted in widening of and enriching the conceptual
framework of these organizations and approaches in varying degrees in each organization.
Visions, missions and identified objectives
Challenges in choosing the goals and missions
On the whole, among the essential features of this trend in its creation was the strength and
unity of a vision between the founding members of these organizations with a vagueness and
generality in identifying the specific missions and objectives to be achieved.
A clear vision of the type of society striven for and built on principles of social equality, non-
discrimination and democracy are shared by t he majority of the founders of this trend.
On the other hand the general missions identified, as mentioned before, were mostly related
to the professional background of the founders and the type of target groups seeked. Hence,
doctors identified the general mission of improving society’s health and health policies as their
major mission while lawyers tended to direct their efforts in the areas of human rights and
These missions were to later on interact with new international concepts and develop more
specifically. For example, in the area of heal th, primary health care was to be adopted as the
general mission, while in disability for instance, Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) was
adopted by those interested in addressing the disability question.
However, in all, there was a deficiency in the formulation of clear and specific achievable
objectives in this trend, particularly at the start. The move from the formulation of general
visions and missions to identifying specific objecti ves to be achieved within a specific span of
time, faced important obstacles both in the leve l of discourse and on the skills available to
On the conceptual level, the contradiction between becoming action oriented versus change
oriented was among the issues that created heated debates particularly in the founding years.
Many of the founders found in the attempt to fo rmulate and achieve specific objectives in the
different fields a shift from the goal of the overall social change envisioned by the
The balance between holding a general vision and the process of reaching it through stages
and achieving specific gains along the path was among the most delicate questions that
challenged the unity of the founding members particularly at the start.
The demand of international and funding agencies from organizations to identify specific
achievable, feasible goals as a pre-requisite added more heat to the debate. Such demands
were felt by many not only diverting the movement from its original goals but also making the
agendas of the organizations directed by and subservient to foreign funders.
The challenge of keeping an independent agenda, while keeping positive interaction with
international donor agencies is among the important challenges that continues to face this
trend in its development. On the other hand, the changing agendas of international donor
agencies constituted an additional obstacle to NGOs in keeping independent agendas.
Issues previously supported by international agencies, in many times, were to be dropped in
favor of new more fashionable issues. In such an atmosphere, organizations in many cases
faced the dilemma of keeping their own priority interventions which are no longer supported
by these agencies, particularly at a time wher e the fruits of addressing these issues were
much more ripe than before.
Meanwhile, the dichotomy between advocacy
and lobbying versus service provision
continues to be among the major challenges facing the role of NGOs. The dilemma between
focusing on the role of advocating and lobbyi ng on behalf of the target groups rather than
providing services to these groups continue s to create important problems and heated
debates among NGOs.
On the whole, the climate that these NGOs were created through was witnessing important
changes in the role of the state. The role of the state as being the major service provider and
employer has been on the decline from the mid-se venties. This was particularly within the
framework of economic restructuring and privat ization policy, which dominated thereafter.
These organizations and this trend as a whole we re basically created in opposition to these
policies and their hazardous effects on the societ y as a whole and particularly the poorer and
more marginalised sectors.
The major role was for long seen as advocati ng ad lobbying on behalf of these sectors
against such policies. However, the impact of these activities was very minimal. Limiting the
role of NGOs to advocacy and lobbying was more and more to be seen as deficient. The
deficiency was not only du e to the little impact it created, but also due to the lack of credibility,
which such actors had in the absence of act ual gains achieved for the target groups.
The strategies to address this gap were reflected in many cases in carrying out different forms
of service provision with advocacy and lobbying. Developing grass-root models was seen by
some as the other side of the coin of advoca ting and lobbying on the national level. However,
the question continues to what extent can NGOs and civil societies keep away from
developing independent civil instituti ons in face of the apparent failure of the state to fulfill this
The role of the state and civil society in develop ing social institutions continues to be a vital
issue to be addressed.
Lessons and challenges to widening impact and addressing external challenges
Naturally among the major prerequisites of the gr owth of organizations and their success in
reaching their goals is reaching their target groups.
Reaching the target groups within the conceptual framework of this trend is essentially the
empowerment of the target groups on different levels. A task, which is much harder than the
success in the mere delivery of a service to the target group.
Empowerment differed according to the type of mission governing the role of each
organisation. However, the major underlying factor is making the members of the target group
active actors in change, an owner rather than a recipient.
As mentioned before, in reac hing the target groups, organisations identified the need for the
provision of a good quality service. This represented an important entry point.
However, service provision, particularly at t he start was not in itself a goal but mainly a
method for mobilization and an important pr erequisite for gaining credibility.
As long as activities in reaching the target grou ps was mainly limited to service provision, this
did not antagonize the existing power structures, whether on the national or the local levels.
However, when activities reached to areas such as mobilization of the target groups to press
for change in their conditions, this in many times came in conflict with existing power
A balance had to be kept, between limiting activities to providing services, and/or widening
activities to include mobilizing communities and groups for change.
This balance was always problematic. Driven by the need to ensure safety to the
organisations a tendency towards limiting activities to those not antagonistic to power
structures naturally grew.
Meanwhile, the limitation of this action, particularly in relation to the goals of these
organisations and approaches were contradictory to such limitations.
A tug of war between the two trends continued for a long time. The events of the nineties
particularly pre and post ICPD gave a strong impetus to the new trend as mentioned
above. This impetus was particularly to those tendencies related to advocacy and lobbying
As a consequence, a new space for this trend with a bigger role for activities related to
advocacy and mobilizatio
n was created. However, the majo r weight for this space was
created not by the hands of its actors but more so by the international pressures
supporting this trend. A fact, which conti nued and still constitutes a problem for this trend
and its ability to long term continuity. In the meanwhile, power structures, which were
antagonized by this trend, started to look at in a more unfavorable way. Hence,
concentration on redirecting and controlling the NGO movement with focus on this trend
became a major challenge facing this trend during the second half of the nineties.
Power structures wanted NGOs to increase thei r role as service providers to cushion the
effects of the receding role of the stat e and replace it. Meanwhile, the same power
structures wanted to surround and limit activi ties related to advocacy, mobilization and
lobbying for change. In addition, in face of the realization of the growing independent
trend, these power structures wanted to ensu re more control and dominance over NGOs
and their activities. The change of the Law 32 became the arena for this debate.
Pre and Post ICPD coalitions and widening impact
As mentioned before anther important aspe ct of the pre and post ICPD era was the
widening interaction between organisations belonging to this trend and more traditional
NGOs on the one hand as well as several other actors on the international scene on the
Coalitions both national and regional becam e an important arena for widening impact.
Concomitant with widening the space and the growing interest of the international bodies
in the NGO movement, a drive towards the form ation of a coalition was strengthened. To
ensure bigger and faster impact, international bodies felt it more cost effective to support
coalitions rather than individual NGOs.
Moreover, coalitions were formed within the conceptual framework of advocacy and
lobbying more than service provision. Among th ese coalitions, two important coalitions that
included a large number of NGOs covering many governorates of Egypt were: the NCPD –
Reproductive Rights/Female Genital Mutilati on (FGM) coalition and the Unicef coalition
formed around Women’ s rights and the CEDAW.
Institutional development challenges?
Among the major areas of challenges facing the development of this trend, was its
institutional development. On the whole, this trend emerged from organizations whose
founding members were dedicated and committe d to an idea. Their input was provided
completely on voluntary basis. Receiving mo ney for this input was considered on the whole
an unethical act.
However, in the years following inception of these organizations, efficiency and effectiveness
challenged not only the development of these organizations, but its actual ability to continue.
The need for more professional institutional ized development became apparent in nearly all
The dilemma faced in this transition was dual. On the one hand, the ethical considerations
made many of the founders oppose such a move and prevented others from accepting such a
role. On the other hand, practical problems, in some of the organizations, also stood in the
path of such transition.
The question of which type of personnel is to leave their position as volunteers in the general
supervisory decision making bodies to execut ive paid positions was a difficult one. The
problem placed by this choice was double faced. On the one hand, if the choice is to employ
founding members, then the decision meant le aving established job opportunities to a risky
one, particularly in the atmosphere created by the moral considerations surrounding the
issue. On the other hand, shifting founding memb ers from the general decision making body
to executive personnel weakens it and transf orms it to a mere “figurehead”/ token.
Meanwhile, recruiting new professional cadres fr
om outside endangers the direction, whereas
placing junior members of the organization end angers the efficiency of the organization. The
combination of placing founding members in senior posts with junior members in other posts
was among the strategies adopted by some or ganizations. In later stages, professional
cadres were recruited mainly in consulting posts.
The transitional stage witnessed important ob stacles and difficulties in crossing it and
continues to do so for many of the organizations belonging to this trend. The question
continues for many; how to successfully combine a strong supervisory and decision making
voluntary body which has actual charge along with the responsibility while having an effective
and powerful executive body wh ich absorbs and adopts the spirit and orientation of the
In the move towards developing civil institutions, a strong need for more democratic
structures was felt by the organizations representing this trend. Democracy was a central
theme and principle, as mentioned before. However, the processes of implementing
democratic decision-making have been and continue to be fraught with difficulties. The type of
difficulties encountered varied according to t he legal structure adopted, on the one hand, as
well as the degree and type of the institut ional structure developed by the organization.
Created as a voluntary group of people, decis ion-making process on the whole was more
linear than hierarchical at the start. All member s felt an equal share of responsibility as well as
rights. Meanwhile, the size of the organization and the rarity of activities with concomitant
minimal responsibilities attached, narrowed in turn the number of decisions needed to be
taken and their levels. Organizations met to di scuss general problems related to concepts and
ideas, and decisions related to functions and activities which most members took part. Such
activities were held on rare occasions, and required few decisions with few obligations
Success of the initial initia tives with concomitant increasing demand for widening and
increasing activities challenged the existing structures of the orga nizations. Linear structures
were obviously incapable for addressing the chal lenge and the need for institutionalization, as
mentioned before, became more apparent.
Institutionalization meant the development of different levels of decision-making bodies. New
processes of decision making had to develop to respond both to the needs for effective
management and at the same ensuring democracy.
On the other hand, and in face of the inimical general environment particularly within the
framework of the Law 32, many NGOs from this trend took the form of civil or limited
responsibility companies. These forms were in m any ways in contradiction with the nature of
the organizations. Moreover, these forms, in m any instances, dictated their terms on the types
of processes for decision-making as de facto.
Unequal share of responsibilities dictated by these forms could not contain shared rights by
all members. Liabilities were limited to few of the founders who could not afford to sub-serve
all decisions to general voting. In addition, t he question of transparency towards sensitive
questions in such a situation faced immense obstacles.
Finally, democracy and democratic processes could not be equated to participation in
decision making only or in voting on decisions, equal access to information and knowledge to
all members of an organization still constitutes an important challenge to all NGOs today.
Likewise, the relationship of the organizati ons with their constituency represented an
important goal since the inception of this trend. Organizations belonging to this trend placed
involvement of their constituenc y in decision-making as a central principle of their work.
However, the road to achieve true involvement of the constituency not only in activities and/or
programs but also in decision-making is a long and a complicated one.
Again, the inimical environment and its effe ct on community participation on the one hand,
and the ability to reach absolute transparency with the constituency on the other, places
important barriers along this road.
The question of the relationship between organi zations and their constituency still constitutes
one of the most important challenges facing t he development of civil societies in Egypt.
Bridging this gap can only be a part of extending
and developing strong institutional structures
within and by the constituency themselves.
During the past few years, the question of sustainability was raised on the agenda of all NGO
discourse. Inputs from various sources em phasized the question. International donor
agencies place it in many instan ces as a pre-requisite for funding. NGOs themselves look at it
as a vital question. In many instances, the term sustainability has been equated to ability of
the organization for financial independence afte r the termination of project’s funding.
However, in this article sustainability is viewed as the continuous ability to bring about change
which can ensure the continuity of the impact of the organizations rather than the
organizations or the projects themselves. The liv es of projects and organizations is not an end
in its self, the final goals of change and the process of change is the final goal which
sustainability must be evaluated and ensured.
In response to equating sustainability mere ly to continuity of funding project and
organizations, NGOs tended to divert their att ention from achieving their goals and sustaining
the process to finding new forms of funding. In many instances, this process was equated to
cost recovery, a tendency that came into contra diction with the original principle of the
organization. Saying that, ensuring the continuity of finance of activities, without endangering
the process itself till impact and social change, still constitutes an important challenge.
Another aspect of sustainability, is manpower sustainability. Manpower investments in NGOs
constitute an important aspect of its work. However, the turnover in such organizations
particularly on the grass-root level is still qui te high. Members working for nominal fees
recruited, in many cases, from young women in particular face this problem.
Ensuring continuity of staff and the continuo us transfer of knowledge and skills to new
members, is an important strategy, which is being realized by many organizations. Hence,
staff development and capacity building of organizations not only in the technical skills but
also in areas that is related to governanc e, leadership and management is an essential need
realized by many organizations.
Moreover, sustainability and continuity on the long run is related to the ability to achieve
ownership by constituency. In organizations where such a goal is well articulated and
activities in this direction are carried out. This goal has much better luck than in others, which
have not yet placed it on their agenda. However, the type of target groups and conditions
uniting these target groups play an important role in making such a goal more feasible on the
On the whole, true ownership of the target gr oups to institutions representing them and
working for them is a long goal, which is very much related to structural changes in the
different spheres of life.
NGOs and the new law ” a challenge to the future”
The unique features of the NGO law Campaign:
During the past year the NGO community engaged in a broad campaign against the new law
governing the voluntary sector. Since 1994, a new law was being drafted as a result of the
severe criticism, from both Egyptian NGOs as well as the donor community against the old
law, which had been in action since 1964. The old law had dealt with Associations as
appendages of the government and t ools for the implementation of its social program, which
had a strong welfare substance at that ti me, an element long since eliminated.
Following the ICPD, the government gave a promise that the new law would be drafted with
NGO participation. During the years that fo llowed a number of heavily funded projects, by
UNICEF as well as USAID to name but a few we re made with the objective of encouraging
the government to see the NGO point of view regarding the old law and create common
platforms between them. On the other hand, the government tried and rejected different
scenarios to create acceptable governmental stru ctures and bodies, with the aim of projecting
the necessary international image as well as controlling the rising phenomenon of
independent NGOs. This was finally resolved wi
th the appointment of the new minister of
social affairs who had the necessary ‘inter national face’ as well as being internally
With regards to the modification of the law, the government, informally appointed a number of
individuals to play the role of liaison between it and the NGOs and thus a committee was born
to draft the law following the ICPD. Accordin g to members of said committee, they were
invited to meet only once before the drafting of the law and had no actual part in the later
work on the law which lasted for almost two year s. To all eyes, the law had gone into hiding
until it was leaked to the NGO community early 1998.
Why was ICPD a turning point:
The ICPD had represented a sort of “coming out” for activist advocacy- like organizations,
who had been forming since the mid to late eighties. For the government, it represented a
step towards its integration into the internat ional community and its chance to present a
‘civilized’ face. However, in the aftermath of the conference scores began to be settled,
reflecting the fact that whereas the government might want to play the international game, it
had no plans on making this an internal reality, which can threaten its method of political rule.
The following years until the drafting of the law saw the different tactics and methods used by
the government which reflect the conflict betwe en its “international façade” and the internal
reality. The outcome was a law, which not onl y secures the political rule, since that was
never in doubt, but the particular method of rule based on centralized control over all facets of
social and political activity.
NGOs on the other hand, who had come out of t he ICPD with a stronger sense of unity and
common purpose passed through a period of fragmentation due to internal divisions and
differences. This division was triggered in the way NGOs responded to the attempt at stronger
governmental control over NGO participation in the International conference and was
reflected in the fact that the preparation fo r the Beijing conference saw two NGO committees
Nevertheless despite of the fragmentation and di sunity which continued for some time among
NGOs, whether for political reasons or as a result of the competition for donor funds,
knowledge and interaction grew among different kinds of organizations and associations
during that period. This fact contributed great ly to later developments in the confrontation
with the law. However, NGO response cont inued at that time to be sporadic and weak,
marked by the lack of ability to sustain a c onfrontation or to take positive action.
The latter half of the nineties was marked by growing criticism of the disunity existing among
NGOs, specially the advocacy like organizations and attempts were made to reestablish a
closer working relation. This culminated in a growing tendency at the closing of the nineties
towards greater unity of action and the heali ng of the fragmentation which had reached its
peak by that time, specially among human right s organizations. This had a definite impact on
the level of organization that was later to appear in the campaign against the law.
The law was finally drafted in secret and leaked in May of 1998 to the NGO community.
Following this a campaign began among the NG Os, mainly the human rights organizations
established in the late eighties and early ni neties. This campaign however, was later
expanded to the more traditional NGOs, who were functioning under the old law and a
coalition was established in defense of the ri ght of Association from 100 organization.
While the campaign undertaken by the human right s organizations has mainly targeted the
international NGO community, international an d local press, the coalition addressed other
Associations all over Egypt, as well as the decision-making mechanisms involved in the
drafting of the new law.
As a result of the initial pressure exerte d from the international and donor community in
response to the campaign, the government acceded to the request of NGOs and initiated a
process of consultation on the law. This took the form of:
• A meeting organized by the Minister of Social Affairs where representatives from NGOs
• Meetings organized in different governorates to discuss the draft law with officials. The
result was that similar critiques were made of the law in the different meetings, which
culminated in clear statements being sent to the drafting committee.
• Four NGO representatives were invited to participate in the drafting committee to
introduce the amendments, which reflect the legitimate wishes of the NGOs.
The newly established NGO coalition played the role of monitoring this process by:
Holding regular conferences and meetings for Associations from all over the country to
disseminate information as well as create common stands.
• Holding meetings with members from the drafting committee to create a process of
transparency and accountability between the NGOs and its representatives.
• Holding meetings with members of parliament to listen to their critiques of the law.
• Holding press conferences to dissemi nate their position regarding the law.
• Publishing a newsletter, which disseminated all developments in the new law as well
as any problems facing NGOs to different NGOs all over Egypt.
At the same time, the human rights organizations, especially those engaged in legal studies
continued to provide material and studies on the legislative and constitutional problems within
the law and to hold meetings and seminars on the law.
The last draft of the law was reached with numerous amendments introduced and with more
amendments requested. The law, according to legislative procedures would go through the
Ministerial cabinet for approval and then to parliament.
After a lull of several months, a new law was drafted and given to the ministerial cabinet and
speedily approved. This law was then pr esented to parliament’s two committees for
discussion and approved. It was leaked from parliament to the NGOs before its final
presentation to the body of parliament.
A second campaign was initiated first by t he human rights organizations and then the NGO
coalition. Different protest actions were harnessed to stop the law from being passed in
parliament. These took the form of:
• a symbolic hunger strike, press conferences and protest statements,
• a conference organized by the coalition for over 80 organizations , a statement and a
• A combined delegation from represent atives of human rights groups and
representatives from the Coalition to parliament,
• a demonstration before the parliament buildi ng during discussions of the NGO law,
• Furnishing parliamentarians with the necessary documents and critiques of the law
raised by NGOs prior to the discussions.
• Following it being passed in parliament despite of the extreme opposition from within,
a signed statement was sent to the president aski ng him not to ratify this law and to return
it to parliament. This statement was published in a paid advertisement in one of the daily
The impact of the campaign resulted in:
• The mobilization of different actors in ci vil society, such as prominent journalists,
writers, academics, party members, artists, etc. This was expressed in a statement of
protest against the law signed by over 500 prominent names in Egyptian cultural and
• A statement written by the drafting commi ttee stating that they disowned the present
law under discussion as it had no relation with the draft law they had been working on for
the past year.
• The mobilization of both the local and inte rnational press around the issue of the new
law and its impact on the development of civil society.
Nevertheless, the law was finally passed and ra tified by the president without any of the
amendments requested by NGOs, albeit as has been stated by numerous NGOs “it has been
However, a crucial gain had been realized repres ented by the creation of a common platform
between the newer type of ‘defense’ NGOs and the traditional type of NGOs.
This not only bridged the gap in the experien ce of these two types of NGOs and created a
new framework of common struggle together, but also helped reclaim the ‘silent majority’ of
NGOs registered under law 32, which had been consis tently used as a legitimating tool for the
government’s policy towards NGOs in Egypt.
It is these elements which have to be reinforced when thinking of the future strategies of
NGOs after the law, despite of the once more changing rules by which organizations are to be