This paper has not been revised by unesco; it is a draft discussion paper that was presented during the conference on "ngos and governance in the Arab Countries" in Cairo, 29-31 March 2000. A final publication (book) is in preparation



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Are NGOs Counterhegemonic?

This paper has not been revised by UNESCO ; it is a draft discussion paper that was presented during the conference on "NGOs and governance in the Arab Countries" in Cairo, 29-31 March 2000. A final publication (book) is in preparation.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.

Are Egyptian Advocacy NGOs Counterhegemonic Organizations?

Abstract of a draft paper to be presented to the conference on “NGOs and Governance in the Arab Countries,” Cairo, March 29–31, 2000


Nicola Pratt, University of Exeter, UK (currently affiliated with CEDEJ, Egypt)

Over the last few years, much has been written about the contribution of NGOs to governance. The debate has become polarized, particularly in Egypt, around the idea of NGOs as the promoters of democracy and sustainable development, on the one side, and the idea of NGOs as promoters of Western agendas on the other. This paper seeks to shed new light on the subject by reframing the debate through the use of the Gramscian concept of ‘counterhegemony.’ The paper examines the relationship of Egyptian advocacy NGOs to the hegemonic discourse of the Egyptian regime in order to ascertain whether advocacy NGOs, through their ideas and practices, are attempting to counter the hegemonic discourse or whether they are in some way propagating that discourse. The basis for current regime hegemony in Egypt is broken down into mutually-constituting elements of a national–patriarchal discourse, state corporatist institutions, and a state-led economy, which is now being replaced by a neoliberal market economy. The author undertakes an analysis of the discourses of advocacy NGOs based on the literature and public statements of NGOs and on interviews with NGO activists. The paper argues that advocacy NGOs are constructing new political discourses that deconstruct nationalism, patriarchy, and globalization, and that provide a new framework for political action beyond political society. Taken as a sum total, these discourses represent the beginnings of a counterhegemonic project challenging the notion of the supremacy of the interests of the nation that justifies undemocratic practices against all citizens and political exclusion of women and working people. However, this counterhegemonic project is limited by the lack of an ideological paradigm upon which to construct an alternative economic model—one that is not based on exploitative power relations.


Are Egyptian Advocacy NGOs Counterhegemonic Organizations?

First draft of a paper to be presented to the conference on “NGOs and Governance in the Arab Countries,” Cairo, March 29–31, 2000


Nicola Pratt, University of Exeter, UK (currently affiliated with CEDEJ, Egypt)

DO NOT QUOTE WITHOUT AUTHOR’S PERMISSION


Introduction


In the last decade, much has been written in Anglo-Saxon scholarship about nongovernmental organizations as promoters of democracy and development.1 Despite the fact that both democracy and development are complex processes involving questions of power and ideology, the literature on NGOs has almost ignored these issues.2 The first aim of this paper is to explore questions of power and ideology in relation to NGOs using the framework of Antonio Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony.’ According to Gramsci, ‘hegemony’ is the political, ethical, and economic leadership of the ruling class.3 In other words, it refers to the complex interactions of ideological, institutional, and economic structures underpinning the ruling regime. Using the concept of ‘hegemony,’ it is possible to locate NGOs in relation to these structures of power as either counterhegemonic (that is, attempting to undermine hegemony) or as part of the hegemonic discourse.

In more recent years, Arab scholarship and Arab public debates have also begun to produce material on the subject of NGOs. A great deal of this material demonstrates a negative attitude, which stands in contrast to the mostly euphoric position of Anglo-Saxon scholarship on NGOs.4 Much of the hostility against NGOs is due to their perception as foreign agents, promoting foreign agendas, and using foreign money. Hence, the second aim of this paper is to address these charges by using the concept of counterhegemony. This concept is obviously derived from Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, but was actually coined by the Marxist political theorist Carl Boggs to capture the essence of Gramsci’s politics as concerned with emancipation.5

The third and perhaps most important aim of this paper is to explore the discourses of NGO activists. The totalizing discourses of both Anglo-Saxon and Arab debates on NGOs has completely erased the voices of the NGO activists themselves, denying them any agency beyond what is determined by the supposed characteristics of the institutions in which they work (that is, either participatory and empowering or elitist and corrupt). Here, I focus on just a small sample of Egyptian NGOs—those termed advocacy NGOs. Advocacy NGOs have been singled out in both pro- and anti-NGO literature as the epitome of what NGOs represent to both sides. Their mandate as attempting to change laws, policies, and practices, through lobbying, monitoring, studies, education, and awareness-raising, puts them in a different category to those NGOs that provide services. To those who are for NGOs, advocacy NGOs represent the promoters of democracy and development par excellence. For those who are against NGOs, advocacy NGOs represent the promoters of foreign agendas par excellence. This paper aims to describe how advocacy NGO activists are constructing new political discourses that attempt to address issues of governance in the face of political, economic, and social changes to Egyptian society. These discourses do not necessarily fit into the dichotomies of existing debates on NGOs.

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