Arab civil society crucial for democracy


Credit: Middle East Monitor

Popular protests against corruption and curbs on freedom of expression are indications of the increasingly authoritarian rule of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, observers suggest.

A Palestinian author is hiding in an undisclosed location in the Middle East after his book was banned by the Palestinian Authority last month, NPR reported last week:

Abbad Yahya (right), 28, received death threats after his novel Crime in Ramallah was banned by the PA in February. The novel centers on three young men in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, and how the murder of a woman affects their lives.

As the Palestinian government’s powers wane, the role of non-governmental organisations has risen significantly in the past few years, says campaigning journalist Daoud Kuttab. The relative success of the Palestinian civil society, however, is not matched in many Arab countries, he writes:

As internal violence increases and autocratic regimes strengthen their central powers, civil society organisations and the press are among the first casualties. Centralised powers are not interested in a vibrant civil society or a professional journalistic tradition. We have seen consistent and continuous attacks against civil society and independent journalists in Egypt and Turkey, as well as in oil-rich countries.

The situation of civil society and the press in Jordan is not as bad as in other countries, but some negative trends can be seen here and there, adds Kuttab (left):

An effort to demonise civil society is sometimes given government blessing; that appears in public statements and in actions against basic rights like the freedom to assemble or hold meetings without the need for a prior licence. This is also evident in how different ministries, officials and public bodies react to civil society and the press. At the very same time that some ministries are working hand in hand with civil society organisations, others appear to work to undermine it. 


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