What lessons for the Arab world?
The issue of ‘foreign funding’ to local civil and political society, and the political agendas associated with it, remain a highly sensitive issue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) following the ‘Arab Spring’. By mid-2012, it has become clear that the ouster of aging dictators has not abolished either their regimes or their practices. Branding civil society activists and organisations who receive foreign funding as agents of the West aiming at regime change is a common tactic that contributes to perceptions of a presumed ‘conspiracy’ behind foreign funding. The recent campaign against local and international NGOs in Egypt illustrates how the notorious ‘foreign funding dilemma’ retains a sadly pressing relevance.
Hivos, FRIDE and AFA launch foreign funding research project
Perceptions vary according to the type, origin, destination and stated purpose of foreign funds. Publicly debated perceptions and actual facts and figures on foreign funding flows differ greatly. Moreover, debates on foreign funding are typically focused on Western support for local democracy and human rights activists, while neglecting alternative channels in which money flows across borders and may attempt to influence domestic political developments. Finally, the motivations of both domestic and international actors to use funding – or the perceptions thereof – as a tool to advance their political agendas, is often poorly understood. All of this led the Hivos Knowledge Programme Civil Society in West Asia to decide on a new research project, on foreign funding in the Arab world. We partnered up with FRIDE and AFA, with whom we will publish a set of working papers on this topic in the coming year.
First working paper out now
Our first working paper, by Lucia Najslová, has been finished and is now available below. The paper assesses what happened in the former Czechoslovakia after the implosion of authoritarian governments in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) after 1989. The country became a recipient of various types of Western assistance. Parallels between the CEE experience and today's Arab transitions suggest that the former hold a number of valuable lessons for democratising Middle East and North African states.