Supporting Civil Society in the Middle East & North Africa | The Center for Victims of Torture

Supporting Civil Society in the Middle East & North Africa

Monday, October 6, 2014

By Omar Da’na, Program Manager, New Tactics in Human Rights Middle East/North Africa Initiative.

The “Arab Spring” of 2011 brought tremendous hope to people in the Middle East and North Africa as they voiced their desire for a stronger say in their own governance.

Unfortunately, violence and chaotic upheavals have left human rights defenders in some countries with little room to maneuver. But Tunisia, while not without its share of crisis, has not experienced the same level of violence.

While Tunisia did have nongovernmental organizations prior to 2011, these groups did not have the freedom to engage in advocacy.  As a result, human rights defenders and members of civil society groups did not have experience developing effective campaigns, building constituencies, and engaging with the media.

New Tactics in Human Rights began working in the Middle East and North Africa to support the development of effective nonviolent coalitions that are organizing to further human rights and civil society in their countries. We are training leaders in the region who can mentor and support these coalitions, and providing trainings and tools so advocates can be more effective in their work.

Our work in Tunisia began in early 2013 with a series of workshops attended by people of all ages and from different parts of the country.

When we first met with the groups, it was clear many wanted to improve the electoral system. During the October 2011 constituent election, Tunisians were highly motivated to participate, but on election day, many people learned at the polls that they could not practice their right to vote as active citizens due to the electrical system that did not allow them to vote.

When New Tactics met with the groups, people expressed different ideas for how to go about increasing access to the polls. To help them sort through their differences, we introduced our Strategic Effectiveness method.  The method allows advocates to create a strategy focused on a specific problem they can influence by mapping out both the issue and their environment. By doing this, the group could see where they might have the most influence, identify people and groups that can be motivated to support their cause, and develop a work plan with detailed actions and a process for evaluating their work to ensure they make progress toward their goal.

As a result, the advocates who started with a general interest in making elections more accessible in Tunisia were able to develop a campaign with concrete objectives, including the goal of increasing electoral registration centers, adopting electronic registration, and forming a coalition to raise awareness among college-aged youth.

The advocates launched their campaign last March with great success. All the major and influential media attended, as well as the most important civil society organizations in Tunisia. They succeeded in getting prime time news stories on TV, and other organizations asked to join their campaign, including a prominent and influential national alliance focused on elections.

It was exciting for all of us to work with them as they used the New Tactics tools to bring a coalition of people together, to discuss, to disagree, and, finally, to form consensus on a plan to continue supporting their country as it moves forward on a path toward democracy.

New Tactics in Human Rights is a program of the Center for Victims of Torture. Learn more about the New Tactics Middle East/North Africa Initiative here.


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