A Perspective from Egypt – Iman Bibars of Ashoka Arab World

Great interview by Next Billion with Ashoka Arab World’s Regional Director Dr. Iman Bibars on the Egyptian Revolution and what it could mean for NGO’s/Social Entrepreneurs!


——– From NextBillion.net

The events in Egypt have been unfolding quickly and it is hard to tell what the outcomes will be, particularly judging from afar. I had the opportunity to talk to Iman Bibars, founder and head of Ashoka Arab World about her perspectives. Next to promoting social entrepreneurship through Ashoka since 2003, Iman has co-founded and now chairs the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women(ADEW) in Egypt. Native Egyptian, Iman is enduring in Cairo that has been scene to historic uprisings.

NextBillion.net: In MENA, the state has traditionally played – or was supposed to play – a major role in providing social services and welfare to its people with a trade-off in terms of participation and political freedom. In this context, what were the main challenges you and your team at Ashoka Arab World faced trying to promote social entrepreneurship? Has the situation changed over the past few years?

Iman: The state has long withdrawn from providing even some basic services. Under the claim of economic reforms subsidies were reduced. The last Egyptian government consisted of businessmen who didn’t have to go through the public school system in Egypt but were educated in Western countries. They blamed the Egyptian citizens – particularly the youth – (as) lazy and apathetic. These ministers were hardly aware of the Egyptian education system that penalized free thinking. Youth were often blamed for not wanting to work instead of acknowledging that the education system was weak and not able to equip them with the necessary skills. For instance, in Arabic language classes in primary school, Koran verses were chosen and interpreted as to mean total and blind obedience to one’s father and leader. In ninth grade Arabic classes, students had a chapter on the National Democratic Party in their books including pictures of Hosni MubarakGamal Mubarak and Ahmed Ezz.

For those who dared to express their wish for freedom of expression, state security created and supported an informal network of thugs who terrorized them.

A major challenge NGOs and citizen sector organizations have been facing is the Egyptian NGO law that governs the process and functioning of starting an NGO, funding processes and controls of NGO activities. After a first law put in place in 1964, a new one – law 84 – was implemented in 2002 after extensive NGO lobbying. Although the new law is better than its predecessor in terms of fields of work and activities it still poses restrictions on freedom of association and on fund raising mechanisms. The Ministry of Social Affairs and security have the last say in accepting the formation of any NGO and no NGO can accept foreign funding or even funding from donors within Egypt without written approval from the authorities.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Federation for NGOs – of which I am an elected member and a minority in my beliefs – recently wanted to create a new law to further restrict NGOs from getting any funding unless they would approve the recipients to whom the funding would be channeled. The law would tie and control citizen sector organizations – and potentially deny them the only support they get from international donors. Given that local funding is limited to charity or support to political leaders, NGOs would have had no outlet but foreign funding to support human rights initiatives and much needed development projects.

In several instances, NGOs were being harassed and dismantled by governors. In South Sinai, for example, NGOs providing social services to Bedouins were recently hindered in their work. Roughly 30 projects funded by the EU were stopped by the local governor. Cars used by doctors from these NGOs to reach marginalized Bedouins were confiscated and funds provided by the EU were not disbursed for the activites. Unbelievably, there were no repercussions from the EU. Aides of the governor said the NGOs were not Bedouin and therefore not allowed to operate in Sinai. However, these NGOs did have a mandate to work throughout Egypt.

(The rest of the interview can be found on the Next Billion Blog)



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