Recent events have yet again thrown Egypt at the forefront of world news, and highlighted the numerous burdens faced by this country in its democratic transition. While Egypt’s revolution created hope for bringing social justice to a long-neglected population, persistent high unemployment, poverty, and unbalanced growth now bedevil the nation’s changemakers.
After decades of social frustrations spurred the toppling of the 30-year Mubarak regime, Egyptians are demanding greater access to resources and opportunities, fair economic growth and livelihoods, and free information and political representation. But the new government, operating in the face of extraordinary challenges, is struggling to keep up.
Nonprofits and non-government organizations (NGOs) are poised to play a strong supporting role helping address these challenges. But this community faces a number of obstacles. These two posts focus on one in particular: fundraising.
Having worked in the fundraising sector in Egypt for a year now, I have been surprised by the number of restrictions civil society must fight to serve the real needs of Egyptians. Yet at the same time, I’ve found these are not unique—in other parts of the world, such as China and Syria, I’ve seen many similar policies. But Egypt has something different: a rejection of the old, and ushering in of the new. I believe that as we watch and help Egypt transition to greater freedoms, we should pay keen attention to how civil society addresses and overcomes these obstacles. In this respect, Egypt could act as a strong case study for both current and future nations in transition.
Hurdles faced by NGOs and nonprofits in Egypt stem from a history of centralized state power and limited political freedoms. Regime officials often saw non-government-sponsored social action as a threat. If an NGO became too controversial or political, it was shut down. If, on the other hand, it became highly popular with the people, it was often usurped, thus allowing the government to take credit for the NGO's activities (these NGOs would become known as "quasi-governmental non-government organizations", or QUANGOs).
Despite political changes, these bureaucratic rules persist today. In particular, obtaining funding for non-profit activity in Egypt can be fatiguing. Of course, like many emerging nations, the struggle of simply finding funding in a place with limited resources is often enough to dissuade social actors. But even for those lucky enough to obtain funds, the ensuing process for getting it approved can be an uphill battle. Tomorrow I'll go into greater detail regarding these obstacles.
Brendon Johnson has been working in the fields of international development and fundraising for several years. Currently in Egypt, Brendon consults with local NGOs and start-up social enterprises on fundraising, marketing, and strategic planning. His previous experiences include living and working in Syria, China, and Washington, DC. You can follow his personal blog here.