Without A Strong Civil Society, Middle East Environment Has No Chance (Op-Ed)

I have been thinking a lot about the environmental movement in the region and the importance of a strong civil society for it to flourish. If people are able to organise freely, feel that their voice matters and are unified then they are likely to take action on issues that concern them. If not, they will wait for the government to not only realise the severity of the problem but also come up with a solution. This is particularly worrying if the issue is climate change.

Climate change is not a problem that can be solved by governments and authorities – it’s far too wide reaching for that. It needs local solutions and local actions to go hand in hand with government support and policy. The problem can’t wait for governments to wake up and smell the carbon coffee. So, if we are serious about building up an environmental movement in the Middle East, then we need to be serious about building up a strong and independent civil society first.

Jordan – A Security State or Nation eager for Reform?

Whilst Jordan may not have seen the flurry of protests that lots of other Arab countries witnessed during the Arab Spring, that doesn’t mean Jordanians are not desperate for reform. In fact, they are and to a certain extent the government has been eager to show they are happy to make changes. In the last two years alone there have been amendments to over 42 articles of the Jordanian Constitution. But, for many, these reforms aren’t having a real impact and there are growing concerns that the authorities are becoming more draconian.

First, there were efforts to censor the internet and last month, protestors gathered to demand the release of activists charged with opposing the regime and slandering the royal family. It seems that becoming a campaigner and a genuine member of Jordan’s civil society just got a little more difficult.

“Although Jordan is a security state – if a less extreme, less openly repressive version of one than Egypt was – it continues to be held up as an example of one of the more progressive and democratic Arab states. Jordan’s path to reform has been a carefully managed top-down process which has all the trappings of democracy while lacking substance. Despite its failure to take meaningful steps towards democracy, donors continue to laud Jordan as a democratizer.” 

That was the damning conclusion that researchers Ana Echagüe and Hélène Michou at the Foundation for the Future came to in a report released in May 2011 exploring Jordan’s civil societyFor full article see here.

The State of Palestine’s Green Civil Society

The lovely people at Heinrich Böll Stiftung had done something that I have been procrastinating about for almost lifetime (well, not quite a lifetime but a good couple of years at least). They have mapped out the important actors and organisations on the environmental scene in Palestine. Exciting, right!? They have painstakingly gone through all those websites, NGOs and institutes with an environmental focus to bring us a clear image of the state of the environmental movement in Palestine. They found that out of 2,245 NGOs registered in the oPt only 104 were environmentally-focused and of these, just 56 were actually still active.

The Facts on Green Palestine

– 104 registered environmental civil society organisation in the West Bank and Gaza

– 56 civil society organisations are actually still active

– Over 70% of environmental civil society organisations feel that their relationship with other organisations is competitive rather than co-operative

– Limited funding and efforts to raise their grassroots presence are two main reasons for the competitiveness between organisations

Most organisations complained that international donors attempted to remain neutral by focusing in practical action and lacked the political will to enforce real changes by addressing Palestinians’ rights to natural resources. As such many organisations felt their projects were simply ‘coping mechanisms’. Even so, the relationship between NGOs and funders was generally described as co-operative if highly dependent.

:: Full details of Palestine’s Green Civil Society here.

One response to “Without A Strong Civil Society, Middle East Environment Has No Chance (Op-Ed)

  1. Pingback: Survival Tips in Times of State Repression « Ink & Rage

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