Strengthening Civil Society Actors

A strong civil society that is able to voice demands and propose policy solutions is an essential component of a sustainable democracy. It contributes to strengthening social cohesion and building more accountable and legitimate states. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the Middle East and North-Africa (MENA) expanded after the Arab uprisings as they channeled demands and sought to re-imagine public policies in the region. But challenges quickly arose as the political context shifted and space for participation shrunk. Across the region, restrictive legislation and security practices limit freedom of assembly and association. The situation has worsened during the pandemic, as existing authoritarian dynamics were given a boost by COVID-19 related restrictions.
This has affected the capacity of CSOs, weakened their position as interlocutors to national decision-makers, and impeded their full participation in decision-making fora. In addition, it became clear that CSOs in the region face several internal challenges that prevent them from impacting policies and public policy debates. 

Some of these challenges are tied to: (i) a lack of policy expertise (notably expertise that would allow them to build on their activities to formulate evidence-based recommendations), (ii) weak ability to reach broad segments of the population to rally them to their causes (in part due to limited internal capacities but also to a quick shift in recent years in how people access information), and (iii) lack of meaningful access to policymakers – be they local or international. On a transnational level, the insufficient knowledge of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership mechanisms prevents some organisations from participating in the various consultations on EU policies and programmes. The outcome has been that civil society efforts seem disconnected – or at least to run in parallel – to official policy efforts which tend to concentrate government officials and international institutions (from EU institutions to international financial institutions). 

And when local CSOs are given a seat at the table, it is often through international coalitions where their voice tends to be junior to other northern-based organisations that have more sophisticated advocacy and communications tools. Yet, the role of local CSOs in bridging the gap between impacted communities and policy makers is more needed than ever – particularly in addressing complex and systemic issues such as the ones tied to global warming and environmental degradation. In a region going through turbulent times and needing to balance different political, economic, social and environmental priorities, engaging all segments of society – notably those who have been excluded for so long – is not just good practice, it is a precondition for any progress.


Led by Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) in consortium with other CSOs, the action aims to mobilize a broad range of actors from civil society and enable relevant stakeholders and CSOs to build sustainable coalitions, influence policy making and actively engage in a regional, structured dialogue with national policy and decision-makers, and ultimately EU institutions. It is conceived as an inclusive, dynamic and participatory bottom-up process and will provide the space for civil society actors to gather with experts, relevant organisations and institutions, as well as policy and decision-makers, on the local, national and international level.

Through an annual cycle of activities, civil society actors will gather to discuss and exchange on themes linked to just transition, with the aim to incorporate their local knowledge and experience in policy-making. The results of these discussions will be brought from the field into a structured dialogue with the European Union.”

NO Comment 27th May 2024

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