Civil society in the Middle East and North Africa

Authored by: Vincent Durac

The Routledge Handbook to the Middle East and North African State and States System

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9780367358877
eBook ISBN: 9780429342486
Adobe ISBN:


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The dominant Western view sees civil society as a domain distinct from both kin and from the market and a bulwark against government repression, organizing and socializing people into participation, thus needed for democratization. But associations can mobilize around divisive identities and need not oppose the state if they are focused on filling a needs gap in society. Autonomous groups can balance the state, without being liberal, e.g. ulama and guilds. In MENA, they may be Islamic charities, professional organizations and unions; and only a tiny minority promote human rights or democracy. In the era of controlled political liberalization (1990–2010), Western-like civil society organizations proliferated, driven by international funders; yet they made little political impact. Most were non-democratic within, factionalized, split between Islamist and secular, allowing divide and rule, and enjoying low popular legitimacy.

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