Democratic societies require vibrant civil society sectors that enable citizens to freely influence public decision-making, work as problem solvers and hold governments accountable.  

The track record of civil society activity in the Arab world is mixed.  In Tunisia, the Nobel Prize winning National Dialogue Quartet helped usher in a transition to democracy with substantial input from the citizenry.  In Egypt, by contrast, civil society has seen the brunt end of a harsh crackdown by the authorities that has deprived Egyptians from being a part of public policy debates.

I’ve just arrived to Mauritania, a member state of the Arab League that does not receive a lot of attention.  Situated at the westernmost point of the African Sahel region, Mauritania faces challenges with good governance, sustainable development and a continuing battle with slavery.  In this context, it is paramount that an unencumbered civil society be free to engage in civic activism, and promote inclusiveness, accountability and transparency. 

Civil society organizations are often hamstrung by a number of weaknesses, such as low organizational capacity, competition for scarce resources and politicization.  Looking at Mauritania’s civic landscape, I am encouraged by several enabling factors, but recent reports of intimidation of some civic organizations and a possible new associations law that permits authorities to dissolve any organization it deems to violate the state’s credibility are worrisome.  I look forward to learning more in the coming days here and will share more in these pages upon my return.

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