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Fledgling Democracies Have Full Support of U.S.

July 11, 2011
Fledgling Democracies Have Full Support of U.S. ©State Dept.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the Community of Democracies, applauding many countries that have successfully transitioned to democracy and speaking directly to those in the Middle East and North Africa demanding their rights and freedoms.  Secretary Clinton asserted that true, sustainable democracies are built on accountable institutions, equal protection and equal participation, far-sighted leadership, healthy civil societies, and economic opportunity. 

She went on to urge the international community to support emerging democracies such as those in Tunisia and Egypt, saying that “democracies flourish when they are connected to and supported by other democracies.”

Both the State Department and the Community of Democracies have launched new partnerships to support emerging democracies.  The new Democracy Partnership Challenge encourages and support reforms in countries that have experienced recent democratic breakthroughs. USAID will contribute $5million to support this new initiative, which will be focused first on Moldova and Tunisia. In addition, the Department of State, together with twelve other democratic nations spanning the globe, launched the Lifeline: Embattled NGOs Assistance Fund to provide emergency assistance for NGOs.

These new initiatives complement an existing array of programs MEPI has underway to empower people where they seek change.  With its presence and network of partners across the region, MEPI is uniquely positioned to respond rapidly to unfolding events and priorities in the region.  MEPI has already reprogrammed resources to respond to recent events: 

-  Regional Response ($15,000,000) – Using these funds, MEPI intends to support emerging reform and transition opportunities throughout the region.

-  Tunisia Response ($20,000,000) – Recognizing the importance of a successful democratic transition in Tunisia for the entire region, MEPI will provide support in five priority areas:

1.      establishing an independent and professional media sector,
2.      strengthening civil society,
3.      supporting the development of political parties,
4.      developing a sound electoral framework, and
5.      encouraging economic reforms to expand the private sector. 

In addition, MEPI is providing $6,500,000 in direct support to Egyptian civil society organizations.  A number of new MEPI grants are underway to expand citizen participation in public life, assist local grantees build networks that strengthen their organizational skills, and support other transition-related projects by Egyptian and U.S. organizations, focusing on civil society, women, and youth. 

In Egypt, women have marched, blogged, and put their lives on the line.  But they have seen their participation limited in this transition period.  One Egyptian woman recently remarked, “The men were keen for me to be there when we were demanding Mubarak should go.  But now that he has gone, they want me to go home.” MEPI is providing assistance directly to women through new partnerships that help breakdown longstanding professional barriers that keep them from fully participating in the future of their country. For example, using MEPI funds, the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession is teaching women to advocate for their rights to serve as prosecutors by giving them to skills to lobby judges and officials to change the law. 

A vibrant civil society is a fundamental element of a successful democracy. To help create an environment for civil society organizations (CSOs) to thrive in Egypt, the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and MEPI are partnering with Egyptian CSOs to advocate for legal reform to enable them to operate in a “safe legal space.” Through workshops and seminars, ICNL also strengthens CSO participation in policy making and implementation and is working with stakeholders to develop recommendations about and advocate for a new NGO law in Egypt.

As nations in the MENA region progress towards democracy, MEPI will continue to increase its efforts, like those mentioned above, to create more open, dynamic, and diverse economies, support the inclusion of underrepresented groups like women and youth, help lay the ground for sound democratic institutions to take root, and provide opportunities for civil society activists and leaders to enhance their advocacy and leadership skills.  As the Secretary rightly noted, this moment belongs to the people of the Middle East and North Africa. MEPI partnerships will continue to support them as they demand rights, dignity, and opportunity from their governments.