2017 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index for the Middle East and North Africa


The CSO Sustainability Index for the Middle East and North Africa evaluates the strength and viability of the CSO sectors in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen. This edition of the Index covers events and trends affecting CSOs in 2017.

In 2017 CSOs across the Middle East and North Africa continued to face a range of security, economic, and political challenges that affected their sustainability. Several countries struggled with the effects of violent conflict. In Yemen, a brutal civil war with international involvement made it difficult for CSO personnel to move around the country while creating immense needs for humanitarian aid. The Islamic State and other militants continued to wage attacks on civilians in Iraq for much of 2017, though the liberation of areas formerly controlled by the Islamic State late in the year made it possible for CSOs to provide aid and assistance to previously inaccessible parts of the country. The Islamic State also launched attacks in Egypt, where the government responded by reinstating an emergency law that expanded authorities’ power to impose curfews and censor the press, adding to the multitude of legal restrictions faced by CSOs. In Jordan and Lebanon, large populations of refugees from the war in Syria continued to strain resources as well as create additional needs for CSO goods and services.

Political tensions and turmoil raised challenges for CSOs in several countries as well. In Iraq, CSOs contended with the conflict between the federal government and the Kurdistan region, which sought its independence in a November referendum; authorities in Kurdistan halted registration of new CSOs at the height of the tensions. CSOs in the West Bank and Gaza continued to face legal and administrative challenges stemming from tensions between the two territories, with authorities from one side creating obstacles to registration and funding for organizations affiliated with their political opponents in the other. In Yemen, CSOs were frequently caught between opposing factions, and faced discrimination and harassment based on their perceived political affiliations.

Economic challenges across the region exacerbated financial difficulties for CSOs and directly or indirectly affected their activities. In Egypt, the devaluation of the Egyptian pound and reduction of subsidies for petroleum and electricity caused shortages that affected CSOs’ ability to deliver basic goods and services, and to cover basic operational costs. Economic hardship helped fuel massive protests in Morocco; some CSOs supported or took part in the protests and were caught up in demonstrations and sit-ins that were dispersed by authorities. In Jordan, economic stagnation and rising prices led CSOs to place greater emphasis on supporting micro-loans and skills development, in order to help build individuals’ economic agency. The blockade of Gaza continued to restrict economic opportunities in the territory, while the West Bank faced significant budgetary shortfalls. Yemen remained one of the world’s poorest countries, and the civil war contributed to widespread hunger and deteriorating public services that CSOs struggled to replace.

Last updated: April 12, 2019

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