Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

NGOs

The typical image of the Syrian refugee camp in Jordan is one of suffering. Journalistic account after account introduces spectacular stories of devastation and loss. While perhaps dramatized, these tales are not false. Syrian refugee camps have forced hundreds of thousands of strangers to live together in austere, unequal and artificially constructed communities, which are subject to new national laws. To live in the camps is indeed to endure or have endured some form of suffering—but also to be part of a collective of survivors.

During the 18-day uprising of 2011, police disappeared from the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities at the same time that the state emptied the prisons of thousands of convicts. Neighborhood watch brigades, typically led by young men, sprang up to fill the security void as reports of criminal violence mounted. Face to face, or via Facebook, these “popular committees” quickly organized themselves and spread beyond urban centers, driven by the imperative of community defense. In the words of one committee founder: “Committees were everywhere in villages and cities.

On a crisp November day in 1984, I first stepped into the small apartment on Ramallah's main street that housed the offices of what was then known as Law in the Service of Man (a somewhat ungainly translation of the more universal al-qanoun min ajal al-insan — Law in the Service of the Human Being). The receptionist, who doubled as administrative assistant, sat in an entrance space immediately off a small glassed-in veranda. The dining room served as meeting room-cum-library. Two small bedrooms offered working space for researchers.

Shortly before Eritrea's declaration of independence from Ethiopia in May 1993, members of the Eritrean security forces arrived on the doorstep of the Regional Center for Human Rights and Development (RCHRD) in downtown Asmara, the capital. The center's director knew precisely why they had come — to shut down Eritrea's first postwar NGO.

"It's over for this generation of Islamic activists. We tried and failed, but time is on our side. We must plant the seeds for an Islamic future in the next generation through social change. We must alter the mindset and mentality of people through an Islamic value system. We do this through example and education. We do it quietly and with persistence." [1]

On January 7, 2000, Lisa Hajjar spoke with Abdallahi An-Na'im, a lawyer from Sudan and a prominent human rights scholar and activist. He is professor of law at Emory University. Transcription was provided by Zachary Kidd and funded by the Morehouse College sociology department.

Can you highlight some of the factors that contributed to the development of a human rights movement in the Arab world?

On a drab Beirut side street is a modest restaurant famed for its delicious cuisine. A favorite haunt of top PLO officials, journalists and various political hangers-on in years past, the restaurant still enjoys a thriving business, serving local residents, shopkeepers and a large and growing entourage of professionals working on projects under the auspices of a wide variety of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

In June 1998 the Spanish government began constructing several 12-foot high fences to halt African immigrants from illegally entering Europe by way of Spain’s North African enclave territory in Melilla. Running along the ten-kilometer border separating Morocco from Melilla, these fences were scheduled for completion by January 1999. They are to be patrolled by members of the Spanish civil guard and monitored by the latest in surveillance technology: cameras, sensors and armed guards stationed in lookout towers. These rigorous new border controls are required by the European Union’s adoption of stricter measures to regulate the inflow of individuals from non-EU nations.

The effect of economic restructuring on women was the focus of a two-day workshop at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies in 1998, entitled “Women and Economic Restructuring in the Middle East: Gender, Jobs and Activist Organizations.” Participants [1] agreed that restructuring both helps and hurts women, depending on specific economic, social and political conditions in individual countries, as well as prevalent ideologies regarding gender and class. Women of the Middle East-North Africa region constitute only a small part of the salaried labor force, attend school for fewer years than males and have a far higher rate of illiteracy.

Incumbent national leaders invite foreign election monitors only when it is in their interest to do so. Rarely is significant financial assistance “conditional” on holding elections, although it does improve a regime’s image abroad to do so. For governments being observed, the trick is to orchestrate the process enough to win, but not enough to arouse observers’ suspicions.

Ghanem Bibi is co-founder and coordinator of the Arab Resource Collective based in Nicosia. ARC generates Arabic-language resources for use in community health and childhood development projects, and serves as a networking resource for Arab NGOs. Julie Peteet spoke with him in August 1994, shortly after an Arab NGO preparatory meeting in Lebanon for the March 1995 UN Social Summit in Copenhagen. Joe Stork spoke with him further in early November 1994.

What was the range of organizations attending the regional preparatory meeting?

Mark Duffield was in Bosnia and Croatia from January 9 to January 22, 1994 as part of a larger study of complex emergencies. The following is condensed from his “first impression” field report.

The war in former Yugoslavia has displaced over 4 million people. Nearly 3 million of these are in Bosnia, where half the population has been uprooted. From a humanitarian perspective, the war in Bosnia presents itself as the blockade and terrorization of civilian populations. While access can be negotiated, as the war has spread across central Bosnia this has become increasingly difficult. Food supplies have fallen to critical conditions.

Over the past several years, the perception has become widespread that the world has entered a period of profound change. A main feature of this change has been some erosion of the principle of state sovereignty as a major structural feature of international relations. The new activism of the United Nations and the trend toward selective military intervention for humanitarian purposes and as a means of international crisis management have been the most prominent features of this development.

Images of African famine once again scan Western television screens, prompting a renewed search for causes and solutions. In this worried atmosphere it is easy to overlook that international relief operations have now become a widespread and accepted response to this unfolding crisis. While Sudan and Ethiopia spring to mind, such interventions have also occurred in Uganda, Mozambique, Angola and Liberia.

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