Articles & Lectures

Click to share article:



Civil society and its constituting web of organizations is increasingly being recognized in the Arab Countries as the back-bone of the promotion, defense and practice of democracy and sustainable human development[1].
“Civil society organizations channel people's participation in economic and social activities and organize them into more powerful groups to influence public policies and gain access to public resources, especially for the poor. They can provide checks and balances on government power and monitor social abuses. They also offer opportunities for people to develop their capacities and improve their standards of living - by monitoring the environment, assisting the disadvantaged, developing human resources, helping communication among business people”.[2]
While Arab CSOs are faced with these challenging tasks, they also face daunting problems, obstacles and weaknesses that hinder the effectiveness of their action: (i) part of these obstacles are regulatory and relate to the relationship of CSOs with states; and (ii) another part are organizational and managerial and relate to the CSO’s own internal governance and management.
The latter type of obstacles and weaknesses need to be addressed by appropriate projects and services that aim at improving on the CSO governance and management. These needs may be, for instance, developing appropriate organizational structures, good by-laws, rules-of-order, rules of ethics, improving on democracy, accountability and transparency, resource mobilization, research and training on related subjects and skills.
This short paper will review: (i) the importance of internal CSO good governance; (ii) the obstacles facing CSOs in the Arab countries; and (iii) the types of projects and activities that are needed to develop the CSO good internal governance, capacities, effectiveness and efficiency.
For the same reasons that states need good governance for the effective delivery of services in the context of sustainable human development, so do Civil Society Organizations, that can be organized and can function very much like state institutions do[3].
In most instances[4], membership CSOs are patterned around the model of the democratic government, conducted by means of deliberating bodies generally organized as follows: (i) a deliberative assembly constituted of, or representing, the organization’s members (generally called “the General Assembly”); (ii) an executive body entrusted with executive authorities (generally called “the Board of Directors”); (iii) committees (whether organized as part of the General Assembly or the Board of Directors); (iv) officers discharging specific roles and functions (e.g. Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer); and, sometimes, (v) a staff of one or more employees.
By adapting the UNDP definition of Governance to CSOs[5], we suggest to use the following as a working definition for the purposes of this paper:
Governance - the exercise of statutory and personal authority in the management of CSO affairs at all levels. It comprises the complex mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutions through which CSO members articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences.
Good governance is characterized by participation, transparency, accountability, rule of law, effectiveness, efficiency and equity[6].
Although related, Governance needs to be distinguished from management, which can be broadly defined as “the process of setting objectives and organizing resources to attain them”. In that sense, Governance and management overlap. However, for the purpose of our paper, governance would exclude, and management include, organizing financial resources and employed human resources, as well as the implementation of decisions once passed. Both the terms of Governance and Management will be used separately to reflect this difference of meaning.
The quality of the institutions and processes that support the CSO’s policies and activities is as important as that of the policies and activities themselves. It is useful to remind of the most valuable effects of good governance on CSOs:
-          Legitimizes the organization and shields it from credible criticism of the public and supervising authorities.
-          Empowers members and increases their volunteer commitment and participation to advancing the goals of the organization.
-          Improves the effectiveness and efficiency of decision-making.
-          Prevents and resolves conflicts efficiently, thus sustaining organizational cohesion.
Many CSOs in the Arab countries can fairly be described as lacking many or all of the fundamental traits of good governance, namely: participation, transparency, accountability, rule of law, effectiveness, efficiency and equity. Indeed, as in any other society or country in the world, the reasons for the lack of good governance need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, in the case of the Arab countries (at least, most of them), one can highlight a number of external and internal factors that may cause the lack of good Governance that we shall briefly present hereafter[7]:
a.         External Factors: Inadequate Regulatory Frameworks and Lack of appropriate Freedom of Association
The value of freedom of association is self evident as a precondition for the existence and development of Civil Society. In most, if not all, Arab countries, freedom of association is one of the fundamental rights that are the most violated by states, either by bad laws and regulations, by bad administrative practices or both. The most current patterns of violations are any or all of the following:
-          Limited rights to organize and incorporate, granted by administrative licenses;
-          Standardized and mandated statutes and by-laws, with limited flexibility to adapt or change in specific cases;
-          Administrative ingerence in the management of CSOs;
-          Undue obstacles and hurdles on funding, particularly when foreign;
-          Overly repressive remedies applied by administrative and judicial authorities in the cases of violation of the law of associations, including criminal prosecutions and dissolution;
Indeed, the level of the violations increases particularly in the cases of the so labeled “political” associations, including human rights organizations.
The adverse effects of these violations to the fundamental freedom of association are far reaching and strike at the very roots of the existence of an active civil society, its independence from governmental influence, democracy and respect for the fundamental freedoms in the concerned Arab countries.
The lack or limited freedom of association also has the following main effects on the internal good governance of CSOs:
-          Imposed Statutes or by-laws may not necessarily be adapted to, or be optimal, for the various types of CSOs. Thus, parallel practices, not always consistent with the “written / official” by laws, tend to develop and weaken the principle of the Rule-of-Law within CSOs and make the prevention and resolution of disputes more difficult;
-             CSO accounting transparency standards may be affected by undue controls on finances (particularly in the cases of foreign funding); also, the allocation of funds to projects by CSOs may also be non-transparent, if such projects have not been approved by the administrative supervising authorities (which in itself, is a violation of the freedom of association).
b.         Internal Factors:
If indeed the inappropriate regulatory framework of CSOs and the lack of freedom of association may affect internal CSO good governance, there are several other reasons that are endemic to the organizations themselves:
1.         Inappropriate Structures and By-Laws:
In countries where the regulation of associations does not impose mandatory form by-laws (e.g. Lebanon), or even in others where some flexibility is left to the CSOs to structure and organize their own governance, one may find that little attention is given to the drafting of good by-laws that are neither adapted to the needs of the specific organization nor to the requirements of good governance[8].
The result is very often weak internal rule-of-law, whereby the provisions of the by-laws are either seldom referred to, or when needed, turn to be inadequate to resolve the particular issue or dispute at hand.
2.         Weak Democratic Culture:
Practice has shown that the values of democratic governance represented by: Participation, Transparency and Accountability, are rarely found in Arab organizations.
Some of the reasons for such weakness may be found in the general lack for the culture of democracy, itself lacking within the state institutions. Bad patterns and practices are thus transposed from state level to CSO level, whereby CSO members “are in the likeness of their rulers”[9].
Other reasons are organizational, to be found in the inadequate by-laws and Rules-of-Order that can, and should, incorporate rules and processes guaranteeing participation, transparency and accountability. By Rules-of-Order we mean “the rules and regulations of organizations governing the democratic, orderly, expeditious and efficient transaction of business at meetings of their deliberative bodies (e.g. General Assembles, Board of Directors, Committees)”. Rules of order are based upon the fundamentals of democracy allowing the right of the majority to decide, the right of the minority to be heard and the right of the absentees to be protected”[10].
3.         Scarcity of Resources and Skills:
Arab CSOs are in need of good managerial skills to better organize scarce material and human resources. Most of the attention for the education and training in management goes to companies rather than CSOs, who in turn, do not give appropriate attention to developing their own internal capacities and skills; nor do funders, particularly international donors, provide adequately for institutional building, focusing rather on projects than capacity building, governance and management.
The above presentation of the obstacles facing good governance obviate the following needs and possible avenues for action throughout the Arab countries, in order to improve on good governance and empower Arab CSOs:
a. Improve the Regulatory Framework of CSOs and Uphold the Freedom of Association:
The case needs no more to be made for such action that has become vital for the survival and development of an independent and effective Civil Society in the Arab Countries. The impact of laws, regulations and administrative practices on CSO governance, should however call for a very careful assessment of action and the following caveats:
Acting towards good CSO governance could be appealing to governments, who could then be encouraged to go along the path of regulatory improvements. However, overemphasizing weak governance of CSO may play into the policies of repressive governments, who may use such criticism to legitimize their continuing repression.
Therefore, any action to improve on CSO governance must be always put in the context of the general status of the freedom of association in each Arab country. 
b. Develop Research and Studies on CSOs in each Arab State separately:
-          Better understand the environments (legal, regulatory, practices of governance, including by-laws and rules of order, social, psychological);
-          Engage a continuing dialogue for mutual benefit between researchers and practitioners;
-          Study, publish and disseminate good practices;
-          Translate and disseminate existing resources
c. Develop Good Form By-Laws and Train on their Adaptation and Use:
d. Develop Good Form Rules-of-Order and Train on their Adaptation and Use:
e. Develop Model Rules of Conduct:
-          Articulates relationships to donors and funders
-          Improves on the coordination and communication between CSOs
-          May temporarily replace or guide the drafting of general principles of by-laws and rules of order
f. Train in Governance and Related Management skills:
g. Train in Action-Oriented Skills:
h. Provide Services:
e.g. CSO service centers including jointly-rented premises; transpose the model of “Espace Associatif”.

Appendix I
From: “Governance for Sustainable Human Development
A UNDP Policy Document”
The requirement that officials answer to stakeholders on the disposal of their powers and duties, act on criticisms or requirements made of them and accept (some) responsibility for failure, incompetence or deceit.
Mechanisms for holding officials accountable can be interorganisational, as between branches of government; intraorganisational, as between supervisors and subordinates; and extraorganisational, as when an organisation and its functionaries answer directly to customers or stakeholders. Accountability mechanisms can address the issues of both who holds office and the nature of decisions by those in office.
Accountability requires freedom of information, stakeholders who are able to organise and the rule of law.
Aid coordination and aid management
Aid coordination - the process by which a recipient government integrates and plans international assistance in support of national goals, priorities and strategies.
Aid management - the process by which a recipient government integrates external and internal resources in the implementation of its development programmes and activities.
Capacity, capacity development, capacity building
Capacity - the skills, knowledge and resources needed to perform a function.
Capacity development - the process by which individuals, groups, organisations, institutions and countries develop their abilities, individually and collectively, to perform functions, solve problems and achieve objectives.
Capacity building differs from capacity development in that the latter builds on a pre-existing capacity base.
The aim of capacity development and capacity building is to help governments, organisations and people attain a level of self-sufficiency that enables them to effectively manage their own affairs.
Civil society and civil society organisations
Civil society - individuals and groups, organised or unorganised, who interact in the social, political and economic domains and who are regulated by formal and informal rules and laws. Civil society offers a dynamic, multilayered wealth of perspectives and values, seeking expression in the public sphere.
Civil society organisations - the multitude of associations around which society voluntarily organises itself and which can represent a wide range of interests and ties, from ethnicity and religion, through shared professional, developmental and leisure pursuits, to issues such as environmental protection or human rights.
Country cooperation framework
A document that outlines the intended nature, focus and financial scope of our cooperation in a country. The framework identifies key goals and opportunities for our support to national programmes and priorities that are consistent with the poverty elimination priority and sustainable human development goals endorsed by the Executive Board. It reflects the main elements of the intended strategies and thematic areas without elaborating the details of the programmes.
The general term for a transfer of authority and/or responsibility for performing a function from the top management of an organisation or the central governance level of an institution to lower level units or the private sector.
The literature on decentralisation frequently distinguishes between degrees of authority effectively transferred away from central government:
Deconcentration - involves shifting the workload from a central government ministry or agency headquarters to field staff; creating a system of field administration through which some decision-making discretion is transferred to field staff within the guidelines set by the centre; and developing local administration, where all subordinate levels of government within the country are agents of the central authority.
Delegation - involves deciding which functions to shift from the central government to semiautonomous or parastatal organisations, which implies the transfer or creation of a broad authority to plan and implement decisions concerning specifically defined activities.
Devolution - implies granting authority (decision-making power) to local governments that have clear and geographically recognised boundaries, and have the power to secure resources to perform their functions.
Some of the possible benefits of decentralisation, especially devolution, are enhanced participation and empowerment, especially of disadvantaged groups; greater accountability and transparency of government; increased responsiveness; and tailoring of development activities of government to local needs.
The capacity to realise organisational or individual objectives. Effectiveness requires competence; sensitivity and responsiveness to specific, concrete, human concerns; and the ability to articulate these concerns, formulate goals to address them and develop and implement strategies to realise these goals.
The expansion of people’s capacities and choices; the ability to exercise choice based on freedom from hunger, want and deprivation; and the opportunity to participate in, or endorse, decision-making that affects their lives.
Enabling environment
Conditions surrounding an activity or system that facilitate the fulfillment of the potential of that activity or system. This policy document is concerned with the preconditions for sustainable human development, including supportive laws and regulations, adequate resources and skills, broad understanding and acceptance of the differing roles of the state, private sector and civil society in sustainable human development, a common purpose and trust. The relationships between these conditions and the global environment are also important.
Impartial or just treatment, requiring that similar cases be treated in similar ways.
Governance and good governance
Governance - the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country’s affairs at all levels. Governance is a neutral concept comprising the complex mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences.
Good governance - addresses the allocation and management of resources to respond to collective problems; it is characterised by participation, transparency, accountability, rule of law, effectiveness and equity.
Institution and institution building
Institution - an organisation or group of related organisations created to serve a specific purpose.
Institution building - the creation, development and linking of certain functions to accomplish specific tasks within institutions.
The degree to which a government’s procedures for making and enforcing laws are acceptable to the people. A legitimate system is legal, but more important, citizens believe in its appropriateness and adhere to its rules. Legitimacy is closely tied to governance: voluntary compliance with laws and regulations results in greater effectiveness than reliance on coercion and personal loyalties.
National execution
Overall management, by national government authorities, of UNDP-funded development programmes and projects, along with the assumption of responsibility and accountability for the use of UNDP resources and for the production of outputs and the achievement of programme or project objectives.
A social group with a structure designed to achieve collective goals. Organisations provide the basis for purposeful collective action.
Literally, taking part. The question for people concerned with governance issues is whether participation is effective. Effective participation occurs when group members have an adequate and equal opportunity to place questions on the agenda and to express their preferences about the final outcome during decision-making. Participation can occur directly or through legitimate representatives.
Private sector
In a mixed economy, the part of the economy not under government control and that functions within the market; private enterprise.
Process consultancy
A distinctive form of management consultation in which the consultant helps the client management group initiate and sustain a process of change and continuous learning for systemic improvement. The role of the consultant is not that of a typical technical expert who analyses the client=s situation and recommends a course of action. Rather, process consultancy engages the participation of the client management group to clarify the purpose of the change process, to redefine the group=s roles and responsibilities and to redesign the procedures through which the members= respective functions will be integrated to sustain improved systemwide results.
Programme approach
A method for governments and their partners to address, in a coherent and integrated manner, a set of development problems that in turn form a major national objective or set of objectives. The articulation of these problems, the strategies for their resolution and the resulting national goals and targets are contained in a national programme framework document.
Public sector
The part of the economy that is not privately owned, either because it is owned by the state or because it is subject to common ownership. Includes the national government, local authorities, national industries and public corporations.
Public sector reform involves rationalising the size of the public sector and building its capacity to contribute to sustainable human development. The principles of good governance apply to public sector management.
Rule of law
Equal protection (of human as well as property and other economic rights) and punishment under the law. The rule of law reigns over government, protecting citizens against arbitrary state action, and over society generally, governing relations among private interests. It ensures that all citizens are treated equally and are subject to the law rather than to the whims of the powerful. The rule of law is an essential precondition for accountability and predictability in both the public and private sectors.
The establishment and persistence of the rule of law depend on clear communication of the rules, indiscriminate application, effective enforcement, predictable and legally enforceable methods for changing the content of laws and a citizenry that perceives the set of rules as fair, just or legitimate, and that is willing to follow it.
Social capital
Features of social organisation - such as networks and values, including tolerance, inclusion, reciprocity, participation and trust - that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital inheres in the relations between and among actors.
The set of political institutions whose specific concern is with the social and political organisation and management, in the name of the common interest, within a determined territory.
Sustainable processes and institutions meet certain criteria: they do not exhaust resources for the future generations; the capacity of people and institutions is permanently enhanced; and responsibilities and benefits are broadly shared.
Takes into account the interdependence of people and events, actions and conditions and institutions and organisations. A systems approach takes into consideration various "production lines" of related tasks and procedures (operating system, decision-making system, financial system, administrative system) to perform certain functions.
Sharing information and acting in an open manner. Transparency allows stakeholders to gather information that may be critical to uncovering abuses and defending their interests. Transparent systems have clear procedures for public decision-making and open channels of communication between stakeholders and officials, and make a wide range of information accessible.

[1] Cf. first paragraph in the Preamble of the “Declaration of Principles and Criteria Related to the Freedom of Association in the Arab Countries” (the “Amman Declaration on the Freedom of Association”): “Realizingthe importance of the pivotal roles which associations play, complimentarily with the state institutions and its various authorities, in a large number of functions and fields, the most important being: achieving sustainable human development, promoting citizen interest in public issues, empowering the association’s members, improving their potential, directing their efforts, assuring the association’s institutional continuity and independence, and enhancing democracy, democratic culture and strengthening civil society;”.
[2] From the UNDP report titled: “Governance for Sustainable Human Development, A UNDP Policy Document” (“the UNDP Governance Report”).
[3] For a discussion of the relevance of good Governance for development, see the UNDP Governance Report.
[4] One should not lose sight of the fact that CSOs may be organized, de-facto or de-jure, in many ways, including as non-membership entities. Although such types of organizations are not current or allowed by law in most Arab countries, their governance will be affected by the structuring of their specific decision-making and control mechanisms.
[5] Cf. the definition of Governance and other useful definitions in Appendix I: “Glossary of Terms”, from “Governance for Sustainable Development, a UNDP Policy Document”.
[6] For a definition of these words, please refer to the appended Glossary of Terms.
[7] It is indeed risky to generalize comments both in terms of countries and, within countries, in terms of specific organizations. However, the comments presented in this paper are based on the author’s personal empirical assessment and experience. It can indeed be illustrated by examples and case studies. The findings can also be challenged or comforted by further research.
[8] One possible reason for such poor by-laws is the relative lack of interest shown by professionals, such as lawyers and management consultants, to the devising of structures and the drafting of documents concerning CSOs (as compared, for instance to the structures and by-laws of companies).
[9] This freely adapts and reverses the common Arab wisdom:كما تكونوا يولى عليكم“Your rulers are to your likeness”, to become: تكونوا كما أولياءكم“you are to the likeness of your rulers”.
[10] For discussion about, and examples of, Rules of Order and, more generally, on Parliamentary Law, see: “Robert’s Rules of Order”; “Demeter’s Manual of Parliamentary Law and Procedure” by George Demeter.

Send this article to a friend by entering his e-mail address

Print Article

Pictures from Gallery

Articles & Lectures