As in 1990, the atmosphere in Tunisia is optimistic. Prior to the revolution, Tunisia received virtually no democracy aid. As a consequence, civil society in Tunisia is younger and less professional than elsewhere in the region (i.e. Jordan). In other countries, professional civil society organizations are continually searching for international funding, leading them to become divorced from the concerns of their societies and to select anodyne programs that are less likely to upset their host governments. As in Eastern Europe, surviving as organizations can come at the expense of democratization. Because Tunisia’s civil society is less professional than civil society elsewhere, we see less of that “taming” of democracy assistance, which is generally a good thing. […]
Perhaps the biggest downside is that the lack of professionalism is not likely to last for long, especially given today’s global professional field of democracy assistance, something that did not exist in 1990. The appealingly idealistic and non-bureaucratic characteristics of civil society in Tunisia may already be disappearing. How could they not be if local organizations need to develop their capacities in order to compete against international organizations for funding?
In Tunisia, I met a phenomenal group of young Tunisians at the American Corner, a cultural center sponsored by the U.S. NGO AMIDEAST and funded in part by the United States Embassy in Tunis. I told them how impressed I was with many of the local organizations that I had visited, especially compared to elsewhere in the region. Many of them wanted me to shed that optimism. They told me about NGOs they knew that were scrambling for any and all international funds — organizational missions be damned.”
It’s very much worth clicking through, as there are tons of very informative in-text links. For myself, I’ll just say that I actively fantasize about what would happen if someone cast a spell that made “democratization “and all its synonyms and euphemisms impossible to say, so that people who work in that field were required to actually say out loud what they were doing and why, for like a month. Just to see what would happen. In my fantasy world, it looks a lot like this.
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