The Rising

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….

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