2016 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index for the Middle East and North Africa


The Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index (CSOSI) was first developed by USAID in 1997 for the emerging democracies of the Europe and Eurasia (E&E) region, and expanded its coverage to include sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, and Asia in 2014. This year’s reports cover 2016 trends in a total of 69 countries.

CSOSI serves as an important resource regarding civil society trends across regions (comparatively) and over time (longitudinally). It is used by local civil society organizations (CSOs) to undertake assessment and analysis of the CSO sector in their countries, both to increase their capacity, as well as to engage in policy dialogue with their governments and the private sector. The CSOSI is also useful for governments, donors, academics, and practitioners to understand trends and key aspects of CSO sustainability in Middle East and North African countries.


The CSOSI measures the sustainability of each country’s CSO sector based on the CSOSI’s seven dimensions: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image. This seven-point scoring scale mirrors those used by Freedom House in its publications “Nations in Transit” and “Freedom in the World.”

The CSOSI’s implementing partners in each country lead the process of organizing and convening a diverse and representative panel of CSO experts. Country panels discuss the seven dimensions for the year being assessed and reach consensus on the scores corresponding to each dimension. The scores are organized into three basic categories representing the level of development of the civil society sector: Sustainability Impeded; Sustainability Evolving; and Sustainability Enhanced. All scores and narratives are then reviewed by a Washington, D.C.-based editorial committee, assisted by regional civil society experts.


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. In all countries, scores for individual dimensions of sustainability as well as overall sustainability remained either in the middle or lowest tiers of sustainability. CSOs in Lebanon and the West Bank and Gaza continued to record the highest levels of sustainability in 2016, while in Egypt the environment for CSOs deteriorated in nearly every dimension.

Overall, the 2016 report is largely dominated by the regions’ interlocking challenges. CSOs in the region contended with multiple armed conflicts, which caused security, logistical, and legal obstacles. Civil war in Yemen deepened, and the effects of the ongoing civil war in Syria spiraled outward, including massive movements of refugees and internally displaced persons. While the Islamic State lost considerable territory in Iraq, the extremist group also claimed responsibility for attacks that killed hundreds in the country and elsewhere in 2016. The region also continued to be plagued by political challenges, with contested or postponed elections. In other places, newly-elected governments ranged from unresponsive to outright hostile to civil society. State-led crackdowns on fundraising and association significantly hampered CSOs’ opportunities for both advocacy and service provision. Continued economic difficulties in the region further compounded these challenges, with liquidity crises, widespread poverty and unemployment, declining tourism, droughts devastating the agricultural sector, and large refugee populations continuing to severely strain resources and infrastructure.

Despite these challenges, CSOs in nearly every country covered in this Index enjoyed an improved public image and growing support from the public in 2016. In many cases this was due to CSOs’ responsiveness to local needs, and due to greater visibility resulting from increased media coverage.

Last updated: April 12, 2018

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