What’s the future of pro-democracy NGOs in the MENA region?

Flag of the United Arab Emirates. The country has briefly detained and served travel bans to the director and a staff member of the National Democratic Institute. Photo by: Abdulla Al Muhairi / CC BY

Pro-democracy activists’ space in the Middle East and North Africa appears to be shrinking: At least two groups have now been banned and some of their employees detained in two countries in the region.

The United Arab Emirates has briefly detained and served travel bans to the director and a staff member of the National Democratic Institute. The American director, Patricia Davis, was eventually released and allowed to leave Egypt. Her Serb colleague, Slobodan Milic, was also released but was prevented from leaving the country, according to The Cable.

The activists’ detention follows the UAE’s decision in late March to shut down the offices of NDI and Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung for supposedly operating without licenses. NDI is a U.S. nongovernmental organization loosely affiliated with the Democratic Party. It does not have programs in the UAE but maintains an office there to oversee projects in Kuwait and other neighboring countries. KAS, meanwhile, is a German think tank with links to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.

The crackdown came as a surprise since the UAE is generally perceived as supportive of foreign groups, as Durham University professor Christopher Davidson, an expert on Gulf affairs, told The Associated Press.

“The Arab Spring changed that,” Davidson suggested, noting that the UAE’s decision shows the “nervousness of authorities about anything that could be seen as opposition or encouraging free speech.”

NDI and KAS were among several NGOs that Egypt ordered to close earlier this year. Two KAS and 16 NDI staff members are also among those waiting to be tried April 10.

The other NGOs affected by the Egyptian crackdown are the International Republican Institute, Freedom House, International Center for Journalists, Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, and Future Center for Judicial Studies.

Read more:

Read more news about development aid online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.