Archive for February, 2011

Tea in the Sahara

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

OK, this is really stretching my shtick of having blog post titles be song titles – a song by The Police for a post about the police in Egypt (groan)….

All Egypt, all the time continues here on DPQ. More from my interview with Greg Hoadley, doctoral candidate in political science at UC Berkeley who spent last year in Egypt and Lebanon doing fieldwork, on what led up to the situation in Egypt and what’s coming next:

Greg and I got to talking about our dissertation projects. Mine was on the relationship between the police and the military in Latin America. He picked up on this topic to make an observation about actors in the current situation in Egypt:

You mention the police. Egypt had robust repressive forces to protect the regime from the people, but the police melted away after the 28th – a day or two after that, the cops just disappeared. There was this sense that this tool that the state has relied on for so long might no longer be effective, although there were always fears as to the regime’s repressive intentions with the ongoing attacks by pro-regime thugs (who were often police in plain clothes) and Mubarak’s defiance.*

So how do you explain how all this happened so quickly?

It’s a whole host of things. Everyone apart from a very few well-connected segments of society were alienated from the Mubarak regime. The mobilization quickly spread to all major groups; no one was excluded – Christians, Muslims, laborers, peasants, everyone – we’ve never seen that before in modern Egypt. Moreover, Egyptian development policies had led to the creation of social groups that had aspirations of advancement but no avenue to advance except perhaps through emigration. Meanwhile neoliberal economic policies were reducing the standard of living of workers and the rural poor. People had grievances across all sectors of society, so once it became clear that the protesters were able to hold some ground against the state’s repressive capacity it snowballed very quickly, especially in light of the recent popular success in Tunisia.

So what do you see as the most likely scenarios?

There’s the one I fear and the one I hope for. I fear the old regime reconstituting itself through the military in the guise of some phony civilian government. Such a regime wouldn’t make needed changes like a new development policy, real political representation, real freedom of expression, and removing the repressive apparatus of the state from daily life.

The scenario I hope for is that the military brass see what happened to Mubarak and get the message that Egyptians want a new relationship with the state. There are great resources in the country, but it’s been terribly, terribly mismanaged, so there is a lot of potential there.

Thanks again to Greg for sharing his insights on the situation. I wrote earlier this week about the elite-popular coalition that will need to form to achieve a sustainable transition. Given the security forces’ central role in the Mubarak regime, trying to figure out the nature of factions within that elite, and which ones might be amenable to working with a popular movement, will be a key task for the kind of organizing that Molly Schultz Hafid talked about in our interview.

* This sentence edited February 25, 2011 with updated information from Greg.

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Don’t Fence Me In

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

If it’s Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, it must be Egypt here on DPQ. Back with more from Molly Schultz Hafid, whose 2009 piece on social-justice philanthropy has gotten some nice exposure on PhilanTopic, the Foundation Center’s blog. Here’s more from my interview with Molly on what foundation folk outside of Egypt can do to support the movement for democracy.

It’s important for those of us who support democracy to support open and pluralistic values. There are a lot of configurations of what it could look like; to use our simple US labels of young, establishment, religious, etc. – it’ll be more complicated than that. If we’re not of Egypt, the best thing we can do is to support the development of an open space for the organizing of an agenda to happen – hopefully a social justice one. If we do too many shortcuts, we’ll get something that preserves too much of what people were protesting.

As people in philanthropy, we should be talking about and thinking about how to distribute resources in what in the US we’d call a nonpartisan way. It’s going to look different than the nonprofit infrastructure in the US, or the political party infrastructure – there may be hybrids. We need that opening up and that space – for people to try different things, and to try corrective action. If we commit to something too quickly…there has to be room to make adjustments.

[One of the key points Molly makes in her paper is that the NGO sector in Egypt faces a lot of obstacles, including a lack of public legitimacy.]

The one caveat to this, which is very important, is that the aid infrastructure and the US support have used a civil society framework – there’s a lot of mistrust of that framework in Egypt…. I think we have to be careful about what we call the youth movement. Billions and billions of dollars have been poured into Egypt to build “civil society,” and most of it ended up in Mubarak’s pocket. If people reading your blog are wanting to reach out, don’t worry if people flinch when they say “civil society.”

So much of what’s challenging about wanting to help Egyptian youth capitalize on this movement is concern about how such outside support will be viewed. Molly’s sage advice about the difficulty of applying the labels we’re used to in US political discourse is well-taken. But as the heartwarming and amusing story about an Egyptian ordering pizza for the protesters in Wisconsin reminds us, along with Molly’s final comment, the prospect of solidarity across borders is encouraging.

Thanks again Molly for sharing your insights!

Come Together, Right Now

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

All Egypt, all the time continues here on TBBKA”DP?”, or if you like, DPQ (Q for questionmark). Interesting piece on The Monkey Cage (hat tip to Marginal Revolution) asking, “why do protests topple regimes?” Here’s Professor Graeme Robinson, via Joshua Tucker:

Why do protests bring down authoritarian regimes?…The key to answer this question, I think, is to understand the basic nature of authoritarian rule. While the news media focus on “the dictator”, almost all authoritarian regimes are really coalitions involving a range of players with different resources, including incumbent politicians but also other elites like businessmen, bureaucrats, leaders of mass organizations like labor unions and political parties, and, of course, specialists in coercion like the military or the security forces. These elites are pivotal in deciding the fate of the regime and as long as they continue to ally themselves with the incumbent leadership, the regime is likely to remain stable. By contrast, when these elites split and some defect and decide to throw in their lot with the opposition, then the incumbents are in danger….

So where do protests come in? The problem is that in authoritarian regimes there are few sources of reliable information that can help these pivotal elites decide whom to back….In this context, protests are excellent opportunities for communication….Broadly, there are two types of messages being sent. The one that gets the most scholarly attention is at the level of protesters trying to convince other citizens that “people like them” hate the incumbents and are willing to act….However, the other kind of message is the one that protests send to pivotal elites, who are weighing staying the course against the potential costs and benefits from switching sides.

In the Egyptian case, the pivotal elites seemed to have included, on the one side, “national capitalists” associated with part of the military, and, on the other side, the beneficiaries of privatization and Mubarak’s economic “reforms”, associated with his son Gamal. When the “swing voters”, the semi-autonomous Intelligence Services (mukhabarat), moved behind the national capitalist faction, Mubarak was finished. Much of the action in the last days of January seems to have consisted of various high profile figures using the protest to signal their allegiance to or defection from Mubarak.

As I was talking about last week, the key element to understand is the nature of the coalition pushing for change. And the real challenge is once a dictator has been toppled, who steps in to fill the vacuum? One piece of the puzzle is to understand which elite faction emerges victorious. Another is to look at who within the opposition might be able and willing to form a coalition to govern with them.

And it’s here that the “leaderless” nature of the revolt becomes a challenge. As Greg Hoadley points out, “who wins the revolution is an open question.” And as Molly Schultz Hafid observes, one of the key challenges for Egyptian youth trying to organize are the severe limits on raising funds for nonprofit efforts in a legal context where the government needs to approve all fundraising appeals.

What this adds up to is a challenge for philanthropy. Coalitional politics appear key to how the transition, if that’s what this is (fingers crossed), will play out. And the opposition needs to find a way to organize itself credibly, in a way that will be legitimate in the eyes of the people. Youth have a critical role to play; can philanthropy within and outside of Egypt help the youth who drove the January 25 movement to get the knowledge and resources they need to organize in a way that will allow them to form a stable, democratic coalition with elite factions that would be willing to work with them? That to me seems the crux of how philanthropy could help usher in a more democratic society in Egypt.

Leader of the Pack?

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Guest Star Week on TBBKA”DP?” continues: up today is Greg Hoadley, a doctoral candidate in political science at UC Berkeley. Like me, Greg took some time off in the middle of the program, and is in the final stages of writing his dissertation, which is about the emergence of professional official statistics in Egypt and Lebanon. The ability of the state to “read” society and turn that knowledge into action is actually one of the key indicators of state capacity, the basis for so much of public policy, and something we really take for granted in the U.S. (um, who do you think measures the unemployment rate?).

Greg did his fieldwork in Egypt and Lebanon last year, and we talked about the origins of the uprising, what this might be a transition to, and who might step up to lead the process of negotiation with the regime. I’ll have more to share from my conversations with Greg and with Molly Schultz Hafid next week, but here’s a first look.

Chris: One of the memes floating around about what’s going on in Egypt is that this is a “leaderless” movement. Do you buy that?

Greg: There was an opposition made up of small parties licensed by the regime, which were to a degree complicit with the regime. They weren’t part of the January 25th demonstration [which started the uprising], but they quickly hopped on board. The same thing with the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned but tolerated. They also weren’t involved at the outset, but they didn’t claim credit either. It seems that the nexus that got it rolling on the 25th was a collaboration between these young online activists and independent labor unions. But after the 26th or 27th, I don’t know that you can say who was in charge because there was a massive popular response from all segments of Egyptian society.

Chris: So who are the interlocutors during a transition?

Greg: That’s a wide open question. The established parties didn’t get the job done over the last 30 years; they don’t have a lot of credibility with the public. The Muslim Brotherhood has announced that they’ll form a political party and we can expect other new parties to form. There is also an ongoing struggle for control of the Egyptian labor movement, and some young activists are starting to voice frustration with the pace of change. Who wins the revolution is an open question.

Good Golly Miss Molly, what’s that you say donors outside Egypt can do to help?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Sorry, with my shtick of using song titles for blog post titles, this one was too easy, I couldn’t pass it up….

Continuing from yesterday on Egypt, transitions, and philanthropy.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Molly Schultz Hafid, who recently spent time in Egypt as part of a research fellowship. Her project was on social-justice philanthropy in Egypt, a very timely topic given the recent uprising. Check out her paper here, well worth a read.

In the paper, Molly zeroes in on some of the key opportunities and challenges for the development of social-justice philanthropy in Egypt. On the plus side, there’s a long-standing history of charitable giving in Islam: zakat or tithing is one of the pillars of that faith. In addition to that obligatory giving, there’s also sadaqa, voluntary gifts. And finally there’s waqf, a venerable tradition of individuals setting up charitable endowments – never mind a tax deduction, this was all about having an ongoing means of performing sadaqa and zakat.

On the challenge side of the equation, the legal and political structure for philanthropy and nonprofits in Egypt was very challenging under Mubarak. Crucially, all fundraising appeals to domestic donors had to be approved by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which predictably could take forever. This hampered the ability of local NGOs to raise funds from local sources. Foreign funding became paramount, which makes growth and sustainability a challenge, particularly given the fickle nature of much international-development funding.

I won’t recap the whole thing; again, well worth a read. In our conversation, Molly highlighted one thing funders outside Egypt can do to help the emerging democratic movement: create a space for young people in Egypt to learn from the rich history of community organizing in other parts of the world. Here’s Molly:

“The basic concept of how you organize people, how you create and sustain leadership, how you make sure it’s accountable to community, how you have a constructive relationship between organized masses and the infrastructure of the state – those are issues that have been dealt with all over the world, there’s a space to share ideas about what forms will allow Egyptians to get their demands met…. I believe civil society organizations have an enormous role to support in those sharing of lessons learned….how you move from protest to organizing for social change, which are really two different parts of social change. Being in the streets is one piece, getting organized is another, and ultimately when representatives are in power, what’s the relationship between those in power and those in the street.”

Funders abroad can leverage technology and social media to create a space where that sharing of lessons learned can happen. The concept of a “leaderless” movement is a problematic one, and will become more so as negotiations with the security forces advance (as hopefully they will). The regime will need interlocutors, and who steps forward and claims legitimacy and representation is a crucial transitional moment. Here’s Molly on what’s most crucial from a philanthropic perspective in the current moment:

“Anything that can immediately allow Egyptian youth that decide that they want to organize to receive resources and to raise money from others to support their work. There are probably twenty sub-bullets under that, but that’s the crux of it.”

Intellectual capital is a key part of these resources, but if as part of legal and constitutional reform, restrictions on local fundraising can be lifted, that’ll go a long way toward helping build and strengthen the local NGO infrastructure.

Thanks to Molly for taking the time to talk and for sharing her insights!

Revolution No. 9

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

“You say you want a revolution, well you know – we all want to change the world.”

But the Egyptian people changed it, in about what they used to call a fortnight. Unbelievable what’s happening before our eyes. It’s hard not to think the speed of this wasn’t a function of the media environment in which we live.

I’ve been talking with some friends and colleagues who’ve spent time conducting research in Egypt in the recent past and have looked at the functioning of different institutions, and will be featuring some of their insights this week.

There are so many questions right now:

  • Is this a genuine transition to democracy? There’s a slippery concept from the literature on regimes called “consolidation,” when a democratic transition has stuck and there’s no going back. It’s hard to conceptualize, let alone measure, but it will be worth thinking about in the days and months ahead. What would be signs of consolidation? A peaceful transfer of power? A new constitution? Multiparty elections? A moment of crisis for a new government where the military could step in but does not (like Argentina in 2001-02)?
  • What will be the role of the security forces? My dissertation looked at the relationship between the army, police, and politicians in Latin America in historical and comparative context, building off a case study of Colombia during a civil war in the 1940s and ’50s. The “security forces” include army and police (as well as other institutions like the air force), which are constituted differently, have different interests, and may not always work together. Are there differences apparent in how different security forces are reacting during this moment? Are there any schisms that the opposition could capitalize on to develop a coalition pushing for a democratic transition?
  • What will be the role of organizations in what comes next? The idea that the Egyptian uprising has been “leaderless” has been bandied about, which is appealing in this age of Twitter, but A) probably doesn’t describe what’s been going on; and B) doesn’t describe what will need to happen next. Who will step forward within the opposition to speak for the people in the negotiation of what happens next?
  • What will be the extent of the domino effect? People in Iran and other countries in the region are picking up the “Tunisami” and pressing for change. As I talked about last week, there are different internal institutional factors that will shape how those regimes respond and how effective they’ll be.

Stay tuned as events continue to unfold….

Circle in the Sand

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Continuing from yesterday on Egypt, philanthropy, and transitions. Been doing some reading about philanthropy and politics in the region, it’s fascinating stuff. The way the diffusion of revolt has been happening is impressive. This piece from the indispensable Alliance magazine is well worth a read, especially the fuller document linked within it, which has brief vignettes on more than a dozen countries in the region and the status of their current political uprisings, all inspired by Tunisia.

Now you see why comparative politics is so exciting! What explains the different rates of diffusion of revolt in these different countries? Common languages, similar cultural and religious backgrounds, but very different manifestations and levels of revolt. The thoughtful full piece by Ebba Augustin linked in the Alliance lays out a few different possible variables:

  • Bottom of the pyramid. This may be a worse pun than the one in today’s song-title-as-blog-post-title, but the demographics of these countries, with high levels of youth who have high levels of unemployment, crop up recurrently in the country vignettes.
  • The resource curse. My former Berkeley classmate Thad Dunning and many others have written about the paradoxical impact of having a lot of natural resources on a developing country. On the one hand, you have the potential to lift a lot of your people out of poverty; on the other hand, government control of the resource is an overwhelming temptation for corruption, and discovering a resource can lock in bad regimes because they become unassailable.
  • Factionalism. This familiar concept from early U.S. history plays out along ethnic and religious lines. Divided countries have fault lines that are more or less susceptible to political pressure and demagoguery.
  • The power of the public purse. Strategic government spending to provide needed social services to a population afflicted by high unemployment and stubborn poverty is used to foreclose revolt in some countries.

The particular combination of these variables in different countries makes the situation complicated and hard to predict. One thing I learned from comparative politics is that timing and sequencing matter. It made a difference for the development of Latin America and Africa that Western Europe developed first and colonized in the way that it did: European priorities shaped the parameters of subsequent state development, opening up some paths and closing off others. In a much shorter timeframe, sequencing will matter in what is hopefully part of a fourth wave of democratization.

Augustin alludes to the lessons Iraq has learned from a legacy of protests in the early 1990s that were not heeded internationally; that experience will color Iraqis’ take on these issues, and the speed with which they take up the torch of widespread revolt. Their attitude will in turn shape how other governments respond, etc., etc.

Back on Tuesday with some thoughts about where philanthropy fits into this rapidly evolving picture, and hopefully some special guest stars….

The Rising

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Continuing from yesterday on the uprising in Egypt and the role of philanthropy in democratic transitions: Transitions are actually an area where political science has a few things to say.

It’s important to understand the nature of the coalition that’s pushing for change, a coalition that needs to bridge the opposition and elements within the regime. It’s when you have that combination that a transition becomes more feasible. In studying the “third wave” of democratization that took place starting with Spain and Portugal in the mid-1970s and extended across Latin America and parts of Asia in the 80s and 90s, one of the concepts that was coined was “democraduras” and “dictablandas,” a play on the Spanish words “dictadura” (dictatorship), “dura” (hard), and “blanda” (soft). A dictablanda was a dictatorship that wasn’t so hard-line, and a democradura was a democracy that wasn’t so soft-and-fuzzy, but had authoritarian overtones.

It’s interesting how we’re looking at these kinds of grey zones in regimes like Egypt. (I’m totally out of my depth here, my region is Latin America.) There are nominally elections, but Mubarak always wins. There are multiple political parties, and some measure of civil society, philanthropy, etc. Pretty active, at first glance.

So what’s the role of philanthropy, both domestically and internationally, in that kind of a context? Yesterday, I looked at the role international foundations can play. But what about domestic foundations, those based in Egypt? Check out part of an abstract from Mona Atia, a Dissertation Scholar award-winner from the International Society for Third-Sector Research, “Philanthropy: A New Player in Egyptian Development“:

There are three main trends in Egyptian philanthropy: a geographical driven approach to giving, expanding networks and partnerships and finally professionalization of the sector. While the sector faces many hurdles in terms of government intervention, a lack of transparency and few mechanisms for accessing long-term impact, huge strides have been made in terms of thinking strategically about resource mobilization, breaking down barriers to cooperation with NGOs and using the web for advocacy. There remains a great deal of work in terms of actually mobilizing resources in a strategic manner, building capacity for grantees, assessing impact in nuanced ways that do not reduce NGO work to a number, communicating the important work being done in the sector and finally increasing transparency by accurate and open reporting of financial, operational and strategic plans.

These all sound like things NGOs and foundations in the U.S. deal with. Talk about professionalization of the sector….

So the question for me is, to what extent has philanthropy in Egypt been supporting the development of civil society, and what role have civil-society organizations played relative to political parties in current events. That relationship between NGOs and parties is complicated in the U.S., as well as in other countries. I’m interested to learn more about how it’s playing out in Egypt, to understand better the role of philanthropy in a democratic society – or in democratic transitions….

Fire in Cairo

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

I’m a big fan of The Cure, but that was an obscure song to use for a blog post title.

“What is the role of philanthropy in a democratic society?” is one of my two questions behind this blog. I started writing in the fall about the CIVETS, emerging economies that may be the next BRICs – lo and behold, the E in CIVETS is for Egypt. Time to start paying attention to Egypt!

Brad Smith has a post on the Foundation Center’s blog about the role of philanthropy in supporting the institutions that are helping this potential-regime-change happen and that will support the country in the long term, specifically the press. This reminds me that in thinking about philanthropy internationally, we need to remember that many of the things we take for granted in the U.S. as having been “solved” many years ago – free press, infrastructure, relatively open elections – are still being “figured out” in other parts of the world. Granted, our own solutions may be falling apart, but the point remains that you go to a newsstand and buy a newspaper, and you turn on the faucet and water comes out. Provision of water, for example, was solved here and in Western Europe through public investment; in other parts of the world, it may need to be a mix of public and private investment – the nature of the solution will be different, the incentives of the actors to arrive at that solution will also be different.

So it is with building the institutions that, as Brad points out, can be a helpful role for philanthropy. Not just promoting a free press, but supporting universities to supply the human capital a growing economy needs. We take institutions like the press and academia so much for granted in the U.S. that we look for innovations at the margin, in the start-up business or the grassroots nonprofit. Those are indeed important sources of innovation, but in a developing-world context, where formal institutions are thinner on the ground and less closely linked to each other, it’s important to have those centers of intellectual life doing the meat-and-potatoes work of keeping people informed and getting them educated.

Doesn’t sound glamorous, but in a pre-democratic context, it can be hugely empowering, and can build a base for an eventual transition without explicitly attempting to do so. In other words, it’s a long-term investment that’s not about control and wanting to see immediate-term results. The theory of change is, this society needs skilled, educated people for its economic and political future, and we’re going to invest in helping them achieve that tool, to whatever end it ends up getting used.

If many foundations are reluctant to be intentionally “on the edge,” as Brad puts it, it’s important to remember that supporting institutions and infrastructure can help build the conditions for a larger-scale change when the time is right – and to make it possible for those in the midst of the change to imagine what a post-transition world looks like, and fight for it.

(Not to mention the fact that what it means for “the time to be right” for this kind of a democratic potential-transition to happen keeps changing – the phenomenon of diffusion (or spillover, contagion, whatever you want to call it) from Algeria to Egypt is fascinating, and worth exploring in another post….)

Viva la Vida

Friday, February 4th, 2011

“I see culture as enabling, not constraining. It’s something we build, not just something we inhabit.”

Has it come to this, that I’m quoting myself? (Actually, I think worse than that is using a Coldplay song for the title of this post.) Anyway, continuing from yesterday on culture and causation: I’m trying to articulate a positive vision of culture-as-causal-factor – not something that constrains our choices, not something that explains away our inadequacies or inequality, but something that can be constructed actively, something that sets people free.

You have to start with multiplicity, or as I gather it’s now being called, intersectionality: we all inhabit multiple traditions, our identities emerge at the intersection of many cultural narratives: child, student, citizen, racial/ethnic tradition, religion (or absence thereof), gender, etc., etc. No one of these defines us completely. To me, this is structure: that you come into the world connected (or not) to all these other networks, and not by choice. You’re entangled in multiple strands. Not just entangled: held aloft – supported. Identity is the fabric each of us weaves from these multiple strands. Some of us try harder at it than others, reaching beyond what we’re given to weave in different strands – we leave the place we’re born, we take different kinds of jobs, we study different things, we take on new activities and networks. Others take what they’re given and say thank you, weaving an identity and a life from the strands they were born into.

These individual choices aren’t random, or at least they don’t add up to chaos; there are patterns. Cultures are the patterns different groups collectively weave from the strands they’re given. They make a new reality of the raw material of daily existence. This is another way of saying, civilization happened. We’re not still Paleolithic cave-dwellers, we made fire and language and all the rest of it. This process of individual and collective weaving of identities and cultures from the networks and narratives into which we’re born is a continual and active process.

To me, that’s a very hopeful and encouraging thing. We’re not fated; we can and do change things through the choices we make, even if we’re working with materials from birth that we haven’t chosen. We do something with those, and we bring in new strands through the choices we make in life, the networks we join, the relationships we cultivate or cut off.

Anyway, when I talk about “culture” on this blog, or find myself defending the notion of culture as a causal factor, that’s where I’m coming from.