In our previous article “Coalitions: Leveraging Political Power through Collective Action,” we introduced coalitions and discuss best practices, common concerns, and challenges in forming and running a coalition as well as the measures of coalition success. This article steps away from the theory of coalitions and looks at how coalitions work in Egypt. We present four active coalitions: Egyptians Against Coal (EAC), the Forum for Independent Human Rights NGOs (the Forum), the Egyptian Coalition for Children’s Rights (ECCR), and the Network of Women’s Rights Organizations (NWRO).
These coalitions vary in size, structure, degree of formalization, and experience. For example, ECCR is a text-book coalition with a large organizational base, a formalized decision-making body, representation at all levels of society, and international connections, while EAC is an ad-hoc, single-issue coalition of professionals relying primarily on social media campaigns to derive support to influence the highest levels of national policy. Like ECCR, the Forum is comprised of a large number of organizations, but it has a very loose, decentralized structure that allows its member organizations to take on a wide range of issues without creating internal conflict. Finally, the NWRO has elements of a traditional coalition with a common code of ethics, a centralized decision-making committee, and a diverse set of members, but it was initiated and funded by an international institution, which has had some important implications for its sustainability.
Summary Table of the Characteristics of the Four Case-Study Coalitions
Using the theory about coalitions discussed in our previous article, this article will present each of these coalitions and discuss their structure, internal dynamics, strategies, and successes. Who are the coalitions’ members and how are they governed? Who makes decisions on behalf of the coalition? How does the coalition handle internal conflict? How has the coalition evolved? And to what extent have the coalitions been successful?
Coalitions can be successful without achieving their primary objective. In our previous article, we discussed the work of Amanda Tattersoll (2013)which we will use as a framework for our analysis. She argues that coalitions can be successful in four ways:
1) Has the coalition achieves its policy objectives?
2) Has the coalition shaped the broader political climate or public discourse?
3) Has the coalition strengthened its relationship with its members and built a strong network of allies?
4) Has the coalition strengthened its members for future action?
Egyptians Against Coal
Egyptians Against Coal (EAC) began as a small, informal, decentralized coalition of professionals and activists lobbying against the use of coal as a substitute energy source for natural gas in cement factories. Due to the interest they were able to generate around their cause, they are evolving rapidly to incorporate other organizations and individuals to bolster their presence throughout the country.EAC is among the new breed of coalitions that relies primarily on the revolutionary social networks and social media to garner support for their cause. As of this writing, they have about 165,000 followers on their Facebook page and are the youngest of the four coalitions discussed in this article. EAC is a classic example of a single-issue coalition in which a group of concerned individuals organize themselves around an urgent policy matter. In the beginning, issues of institutional structure, decision-making processes, or sustainability were not prioritized as long as everyone was working to achieve the coalition’s common goal. This approach works well for smaller groups, but as the coalition grows, EAC will have to address these institutional issues.
Origins and Evolution:
EAC was formed in late 2013 by a number of activists and professionals to try to prevent the legalization of coal imports into the country as an energy source for cement factories. Egypt’s cement industry uses subsidized natural gas as its primary energy source for production. Over the past several years, Egypt has struggled with inconsistent and insufficient supplies of energy. The cement industry had experienced a decline in production beginning in 2011 as a result of the energy shortage. In order to find a more reliable energy source, the cement companies wanted to use coal, but could not do so because importing coal to Egypt was illegal. Environmentalists were staunchly opposed to relaxing the import ban and had the support of Laila Iskandar, the Minister of the Environment, at the time. Coal is much cheaper than natural gas as an energy source, but Egypt lacks the necessary infrastructure to import large amounts of coal. Coal also creates the highest level of pollutants of any other fossil fuel. The cement industry argues that coal is an industry standard energy source throughout the world and they need coal as a means to boost their production. Environmentalists and others claim that healthcare costs alone of allowing coal imports would reach approximately $3.2 billion annually. The government of Mohamed Morsi had given verbal commitment to allow cement firms to import coal, but before a bill could be passed, Morsi was deposed and Parliament was dissolved. In April of 2014, the inter imcabinet announced that it would allow coal imports beginning in September 2014 although there has not been a formal decree by either the President or the Prime Minister.
EAC is a professional coalition that focuses its efforts lobbying against permitting cement companies to use coal as a substitute for natural gas. EAC consists of approximately 15 core members and 15 members who work on tasks when needed. Core members include energy experts, academics and citizens as well as environmental, public health, and sustainability activists. Several members work in a professional capacity in related fields, but participate in the coalition as individuals.
The group is divided in three committees: media, policies, and field work. EAC has a relatively decentralized, organic structure. The small size of the core group keeps administrative and operational costs to a minimum.EAC does not receive any outside support for their day-to-day operations, but did receive international funding from Global Power Shift and 350.org for a workshop (discussed below). EAC does not have any set rules or regulations and they do not produce unified statements on behalf of all members. Members do not have specific roles or responsibilities. Their small, loose organization structure allows them to be flexible in their approach, but has resulted in sometimes weak communication and feedback loops.
The primary objective of EAC was to lobby the government to prevent the importation of coal as an energy substitute for natural gas. However, in April, the government announced that they would allow coal imports beginning in September, although there has not been a formal decree. EAC is still lobbying to prevent the formal decree, but they concede that it is unlikely that the decision will be reversed. In response to this development, they will refocus their efforts to limit the use of coal to cement factories only rather than as a source for general energy production. They will also concentrate on raising awareness in local communities that will be directly impacted by the use of coal by cement factories. Beyond the narrow focus on coal, the coalition also aims to hold the cabinet of ministers accountable for protecting public health and to put in place a strategic plan to achieve environmentally and economically sustainable energy solutions for the country. They also raise public awareness about the health, environmental, and economic impact of coal and propose the use of alternative sources of energy.
EAC is an information-driven coalition. EAC relies on a network of loyal volunteers, media networks, and their Facebook page as their primary means of distributing information. They target government officials and manufacturers and work with community-based NGOs, CSOs, and individuals in areas most impacted by the use of coal. They are also working on a website that the group hopes to use as a means to disseminate information to communities and the general public about coal in a simple, accessible format.
EAC has also trained its volunteers to improve their messaging. In March 2014, EAC hosted a three-day workshop in Hurghada to raise awareness about the impact of coal and train a cadre of volunteers from across Egypt. After interviewing applicants, sixty people were selected to attend the workshop. The Minister of Health also attended. The workshop was funded by Global Power Shift and 350.org through ECESR.
Although EAC is unlikely to achieve their primary policy objective of keeping coal out of Egypt, they were able to change the national dialogue about coal and alternative energy. Prior to EAC, there was no significant public discourse about the implications of importing coal. Through their efforts, they were able to create an environmental lobby with a strong technical capacity and professional networks and were able to break the media monopoly on the issue of coal that the cement industry had dominated. EAC gained the support of the April 6 Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Egyptian Doctor’s Syndicate, and the Tourism Investment Authority as well as government officials, including former Minister of the Environment, Laila Iskandar, the governor of the Red Sea governorate, Ahmed ‘Abdallah, and former head of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Ibrahim ‘Abd al-Galil. They were also featured on the popular political satire show “Al-Barnamag” prior to its cancellation which helped create their large online following.
Forum of Independent Human Rights NGOs
The political events of the past several years have created deep divisions in Egyptian society. A collective body as politically diverse as the Forum of Independent Human Rights NGOs (the Forum) would normally not survive such political upheaval. However, the Forum’s loose, decentralized structure prioritizes diversity, inclusiveness, and longevity over their ability to act collectively. As with other coalitions, their purpose is to achieve certain political objectives, but because working in the field of human rights in Egypt is a dangerous activity, the strength of the coalition comes through the number of organizations that are part of it.
In 2006, the UN General Assembly created the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The UPR is a review of the human rights record of all UN Members States. As part of the review process, national human rights organizations or NGOs are able to submit information to the UPR evaluation committee. In Egypt, human rights organizations had been meeting regularly to coordinate their efforts prior to the announcement of the UPR process. In 2008, this group of NGOs decided to formalize their collaboration and formed the Forum of Independent Human Rights NGOs (the Forum) to present a report to the UPR evaluation committee on Egypt as a unified entity. They have continued their collaboration together on a wide range of human rights issues.
The purpose of the Forum is to give member organizations a way to coordinate their activities with one another to avoid duplicating efforts and find areas in which collaboration may be possible, produce joint press statements, work together to compile and submit the UPR to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and provide collective security to one another.
The Forum provides a place for member organizations to coordinate their activities and find common grounds for outside collaboration. As a result of the Forum’s meetings, several organizations may choose to work together on a particular campaign or activity, but do so independently of the Forum.
Member organizations of the Forum also produce joint statements and press releases. These statements and press releases never come from the Forum itself, but from the member organizations who are signatories of the statements. For example on July 9, 2014, 29 members of the Forum released a joint statement denouncing the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s latest draft of the bill regulating NGOs—an important issue that will have a profound effect on all of the Forum’s activities and missions. In response to the sentencing in absentia of Alaa Abdel Fattah, a prominent political activist arrested for allegedly organizing a protest, to 15 years in prison on June 11, 2014, 16 member organizations issued a joint statement condemning the proceedings and the verdict. On June 10, 2014, just seven organizations from the Forum signed a joint statement demanding that U.S. citizen and Muslim Brotherhood supporter Mohamed Soltan be transferred to Qasr al-Aini hospital to save his life. Mr. Soltan was arrested following the Rāb‛aal-‛adawiya demonstration organized by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi in 2013for his role asa media spokesperson. He faces charges for misinforming the media and being associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. At the time the statement was released, Mr. Soltan had been on a hunger strike since January 26, 2014.
These three examples demonstrate the value of the Forum’s flexibility. In the current political environment, human rights issues—even among human rights practitioners—are extremely contentious. If the Forum required unanimous consent on statements, it is likely that just one of the three statements above would have been issued, severely curtailing the range of issues that the Forum could address. Although the members of the Forum do not agree on every issue, their solidarity ensures that if one of them is threatened or attacked by the government, such as when security forces raided the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights’ office in Cairo and Alexandria, the rest will respond quickly to denounce the government’s actions. The Forum’s member organizations understand that their survival in an oppressive political environment is derived from solidarity.
As stated above, the Forum does not typically act as a coalition to influence policy. All of the joint statements are issued and media campaigns conducted by the Forum’s members, not by the Forum itself. However, there are two examples of the Forum working together to influence the highest levels of policy in Egypt. First, the Forum submitted a report for the UPR process to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2009 and has contributed to another report again this year. Second, the Forum proposed several amendments to the 2014 Constitution when it was being drafted, some of which were adopted.
The Forum has also been successful in contributing to the political discourse and public opinion about human rights through their press releases and engagement with the international human rights community. Given the state of human rights in Egypt today, the Forum has recognized that Egypt needs many active voices on a range of human rights issues to sustain the national dialogue. The Forum is structured to allow member organizations to use one another to increase the reach and influence of their work on the public discourse around human rights.
One of the Forum’s most important functions is to provide security for its member organizations. Human rights organizations are under heavy scrutiny from the government. It is much more difficult for the government to single out individual organizations when they are working in tandem with one another. Although the Forum does not build the capacity of their member organizations to engage in future work, it does give member organizations the confidence and security to continue their work.
The Egyptian Children’s Rights Coalition
The Egyptian Children’s Rights Coalition (ECCR) is as close to a text-book coalition as is presented in our previous article on coalitions “in theory.” It is a large, broad-based coalition, with a robust presence throughout Egypt at the grassroots level as well as a significant lobbying capacity at the national level and strong connections to the government. They have a centralized decision-making body and a formal strategic plan. Unlike some of the other coalitions presented here that work on highly contentious issues, ECCR struggles from the fact that children’s rights are unfamiliar to Egyptian society. Under prevailing familial norms, children are subject to the authority of their parents and are not perceived as having rights as independent citizens of the state.
Egypt is signatory to a number of international human rights accords related to children’s rights including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In 1996, Egypt passed the Child Law (12/1996), which translated the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into culturally appropriate, Egyptian legislation. Between 2005 and 2008, several NGOs working in the field of children’s rights worked together to create recommendations to the government regarding amendments to the 1996 Child Law. After the passage of the 2008 Child Law, this group of organizations formed the Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child (ECCR).
The 2008 Child Law has several provisions that were highly contested by conservative members of the government while the law was being disputed in the People’s Assembly. The contested provisions include those that forbid trying children as adults, permit birth certificates for children born out of wedlock, restrict corporal punishment, set the marriage age to 18 years, and reinforced a 2007 ban on female genital mutilation.
According to its website, ECCR has four overall objectives:
• “To support and advocate for the rights of Egyptian children of all classes and ensure that the government meets their obligations under the 2008 Child Law as well as the charters and international conventions regarding children’s rights to which Egypt is party.
• Raise public and governmental awareness of children’s rights.
• Coordinate efforts to monitor and support the implementation and enforcement of laws pertaining to children’s rights.
• Support and build the capacity of institutions and organizations working to promote the general welfare of children.”
ECCR relies on their members for funding as well as international organizations such as Plan Egypt, Save the Children, or UNICEF.
ECCR is a national coalition with approximately 100 member organizations with a collective presence in all of the governorates in Egypt. All of the member organizations are committed to children’s rights and development. Each organization is represented on the Board of Directors at ECCR. The Board of Directors is the decision-making body for the coalition and meets monthly to discuss the issues, challenges, and priorities of the coalition. The Board is also responsible for creating the strategic plan for the coalition. ECCR’s first strategic plan was created five years ago and is currently undergoing a revision.
The process for accepting new organizations into the coalition is relatively informal. Any organization may join the coalition provided that they are working in the field of children’s rights or development. ECCR coordinates with the interested organization to see how they can best work with the coalition.
According to Dr. Samer Youssif Safan, Manager of ECCR, ECCR applies a multi-level approach to achieve its objectives. It works with government officials and institutions, non-governmental organizations, and families throughout Egypt and also maintains ties with international organizations such as the Manara Network, a civil society organization that advocates for the rights on children in the Middle East and North Africa or the International Committee for the Rights of the Child based in Geneva.
ECCR has strong ties to the government at all levels. It works to produce policy recommendations to government officials regarding children’s rights, promotes children’s rights within government institutions, and attempts to transform the way government officials think about children. At the national level, they work directly with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of the Interior. At the sub national level, ECCR relies on their member organizations networks to work with government officials.
One of the most important ways that ECCR influences the government is through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Shortly after ECCR was founded they worked to help draft portions of the 2009 UPR pertaining to children’s rights in Egypt and submitted it to the United Nations in 2010.They also participated in the drafting of the UPR submitted to the UN in early 2014.
At the NGO level, ECCR provides support to help build the capacity of community organizations and development organizations that are working to promote children’s rights. They also undertake capacity building activities with NGOs. ECCR also has a large grassroots presence, relying on the local networks of their member organizations. They work directly with family members in every governorate to educate them about children’s rights in general, help them understand what rights children have under Egyptian law, and give them strategies for claiming those rights such as finding ways to access education or healthcare services.
ECCR also has a close, working relationship with the media through which it conducts campaigns. Past campaigns include raising awareness about the dangers and illegality of FGM, promoting the rights of children in the 2012 and 2014 constitutions, and defending the rights of the child in Egyptian law during the presidency of Mohamed Morsi.
Although ECCR predates the 2011 Revolution, they have not experienced any of the security concerns that other human rights organizations or collectives have faced for several reasons. First, children’s rights are not a priority in Egypt and they are not threatening politically, so the government doesn’t interfere with the coalition’s operations. Second, ECCR has a strong professional backing as well as strong ties to the government. Third, the coalition has a strong connection with each of its organizations as well as to international children’s rights institutions. Like the Forum on Independent Human Rights NGOs, the solidarity among these organizations provides a significant boost to the safety of each of the organizations. ECCR is also a participating member of the Forum of Independent Human Rights NGOs.
Dr. Safan believes the biggest challenge facing ECCR is that children’s rights are simply not a priority for anyone. Overall, there is a lack of societal awareness or acceptance of children as individuals that have rights. When ECCR’s members are working directly with citizens, they are often told that this is not the time to address children’s problems and that there are too many other problems right now. Furthermore, despite existing legislation, Egyptian parents enjoy absolute freedom in raising their children. Although the Egyptian constitution states that “The State shall provide children with care and protection from all forms of violence, abuse, mistreatment and commercial and sexual exploitation,” the realization of this right for many children is far off and the enforcement of the Child Law is rare.
ECCR was founded in the wake of major gains for children’s rights in Egypt. ECCR’s success is as much about protecting the advances made in the passage of the 2008 Children Law as it is about supporting the implementation and enforcement of that law. They strengthened their position to do this with the passage of the 2014 Constitution. In September 2013, ECCR submitted a number of recommendations concerning children’s rights to the 50-member constitutional assembly responsible for drafting the new constitution. The coalition participated in three different hearings with three different committees to make recommendations to improve children’s rights. All of their recommendations were adopted in Article 82 of the final draft which was approved and ratified in 2014.
One area of success in which ECCR has excelled is in the development of their member organizations to build their support network for future collaboration on children’s rights. ECCR has been successful in establishing strong connections with the government at all levels and in several major ministries that have a direct influence on childhood development.
Network of Women’s Rights Organizations
The Network of Women’s Rights Organizations (NWRO) is working to change Personal Status Laws. NWRO was founded as an international development project in 2005 and over the past few years, it has taken steps to formalize its structure, operating procedures, and code of ethics in preparation for the draw-down in funding and support from its international sponsor. NWRO presents an interesting case study for two reasons: first, it highlights the dynamics at play when a foreign organization is both the instigator of the initiative and the predominant source of funding, and second, it demonstrates the difficulty of working on socially contentious issues.
NWRO is comprises 11 NGOs that are working in the field of women’s and family rights. It was founded by the German development-aid agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), as part of their commitment to promoting gender equality and supporting civil society groups. GIZ staff members selected several well-established women’s rights organizations with grassroots and/or advocacy experience and invited them to a meeting to form the group and determine an objective. Initially, NWRO focused on informal marriages (‘urfi), but after three years of work, the group decided to drop the issue because some participating members thought it was too socially sensitive. As a result, several organizations left the group. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of participating organizations was in flux, with some leaving and others joining. As a result of this transition, the organizations which joined the coalition tended to have more of a development focus than a predominantly gender focus. After dropping the issue of informal marriages, the group took on the issue of the Personal Status Law(Tadros 2011).
Personal Status Law regulates the relations between family members and establishes the rights and duties of men, women, and children in the domestic sphere. It has broad implications for gender roles and statutes in society at large. It is largely derived from Islamic Law (shari’a) and has been central to the feminist struggle since its inception in 1929 . NWRO is advocating for reform of Personal Status Law in the areas of marriage, financial obligations, obedience (taa’a), divorce, child custody and visitation rights, polygamy, and joint wealth.GIZ continues their support to NWRO through the Promoting Women’s Rights (PoWR) project.
NWRO has 11 member organizations including the Helwan Association for Community Development, the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance Foundation, the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, the Forum for Women in Development, the Association for Women and Development, the Egyptian Foundation for Family Development, the Association for Women and Society, the Egyptian Association for Comprehensive Development, the Society for Sinai-Women’s Rights (SWR), the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, and CARE Egypt.
There are three organizational components to NWRO: a steering committee, an executive committee, and thematic support committees. The steering committee provides leadership to NWRO and includes the heads of the NWRO member organizations, the GIZ project manager, and the government partners from the Ministry of Internal Cooperation and the Ministry of Social Solidarity. The committee holds monthly meetings to track the group’s progress and keep momentum going. Coordination, planning, and implementation of the NWRO objectives happen at the executive committee which is comprised of staff from each of the member organizations and the GIZ project manager.
NWRO member organizations set the coalition’s priorities and vision during annual strategic planning meetings.
The NWRO established a Code of Ethics to govern operations, communication, and conflict management between member organizations. The Code was unanimously approved by member organizations after a two-year, collaborative effort. Coalition members felt that unanimous approval was critical to ensure that all of the organizations would abide by and respect the document. The document is used as a reference during conflict between partners.
They have also produced a first draft of the network’s policy and procedures manual as a step for strengthening NWRO’s structure and governance.
The purpose of NWRO is to create “an environment conducive for the protection and promotion of fair family lives for all segments of the Egyptian society” (NWRO 2010). They do this through two areas of intervention. The first is through advocating for reform of Personal Status Law in Egypt which governs family relations and has strong implications for gender roles and statuses in society at large. The second is by combating violence against women.
NWRO functions on two levels. On the first, GIZ funds individual projects to each of the participating organizations to support their advocacy, outreach, and education activities in their respective areas. These activities may be working with religious leaders or lawyers to help improve their sensitivity to gender-related issues or working with other civil society organizations. Individual organizations have a great deal of flexibility with their funding for these initiatives. On the second level, NWRO works together to influence decision makers at the national level. Representatives of the organization have met with policy makers in the Ministry of Justice and the National Council for Women. They have also held roundtable discussions and seminars with decision makers in both Upper and Lower Egypt.
To support all of their activities, NWRO has produced a legal guide advocating core demands for changes to the Personal Status Law and published a series of publications to support the central tenants of the guide.
As stated above, each of the individual projects are funded by the GIZ as is support for the coalition. The GIZ also funds capacity-building for the organizations through training sessions and international travel to participate in conferences.
To date, there have been no major reforms of the Personal Status Law. Prior to the 2011 Revolution, there were several proposed pieces of legislation that were being drafted but had not been taken up by Parliament and were unavailable for public comment. Since 2011, no other laws related to women’s rights or the Personal Status Law have been passed in part because there has not been a legislature in place aside from the 2012 Parliamentary session that was dissolved after less than six months in session. However, during former President Mohamed Morsi’s term, there was a strong debate about the Personal Status Law, particularly from conservative factions of the government, including the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party.
However, NWRO has worked to change the conversation about Personal Status Law in Egypt. Aside from the traditional development metrics such as the number of meetings held, training sessions, etc., it is difficult to discern the broader impact of NWRO’s work on the public discourse around the family law in Egypt.
On an institutional level, GIZ has taken steps to build a governance structure on which NRWO will continue its work in the future. Through working with the NWRO, member organizations have been able to strengthen their capacity to achieve their independent objectives.
NWRO relies on funding from GIZ to operate and is commonly referred to as “the GIZ project” by its member organizations, suggesting that it does not have the same activist-driven purpose that other coalitions have. By some interpretations, NWRO is more a development project than a coalition. The major incentive for continued participation in the network is the promise of funding from GIZ. However, GIZ has taken a long-term approach to building the network so it can sustain itself when it withdraws its support. In 2010, GIZ announced that it would step away from the administration and coordination roles of the coalition. Later this year, the GIZ expects to curtail funding for the network. Will the network continue?
NWRO has taken steps to strengthen themselves as a coalition to prepare for the departure of GIZ. The Code of Ethics is used by the coalition when possible in resolving conflict. The legal guide provides a foundation on which the coalition can continue its advocacy work. And when completed, the policy and procedures document will provide a governance and administrative foundation for the network to continue functioning as an entity. However, while these documents may help to provide structure for the coalition in the future, it does not necessarily provide the same motivating factor as the promise of funding offers for the coalition to continue.
As we wrote in our previous article about coalitions, coalitions are motivated by success. The lack of progress the network has made on its primary objective to reform the Personal Status Law may hamper the coalition’s willingness to continue. Mariz Tadros, a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, formerly an assistant professor at American University in Cairo and journalist for Al-Ahram Weekly, called the issue “unwinnable” and “politically inopportune,” noting that the impetus for the network was the agenda of a foreign funder rather than the collective action of the organizations involved. In this sense, the reforms NWRO are advocating for lack the broad public support that is critical for political support and coalition success (Tadros 2011). Furthermore, it was difficult to reach consensus among member organizations about transforming Personal Status Law and required GIZ to mediate their discussions. While the coalition has agreed on a series of reforms they are working towards and has a code of ethics to use in the case of conflict, the coalition will have to learn how to manage conflict and arrive at consensus among themselves.
In his reflections on his work with NWRO, the current GIZ project manager suggested that one way to ensure the success of a coalition is to have a third party coordinating the activities of member organizations to avoid conflicts of interest. He also believes that funders should do their best not to influence the direction or work of the member organizations.
Coalitions are uncommon in Egypt. The restrictive political environment make it difficult for coalitions to form and function and the exclusionary policy making process makes it difficult for coalitions to influence public policy. With the exception of ECCR, which was formed in the wake of a major policy reform related to children’s rights, none of the other coalitions discussed in this article have achieved major gains in public policy. The structure of each coalition demonstrates that informal channels of power remain critical to coalitions’ ability to reform policy. ECCR and NWRO, through its affiliation with GIZ, have strong connections with government officials. EAC has quickly learned that, despite relatively strong public support, gaining the support of key government officials will be critical to achieving their goals.
However, policy reform is not the only measure of success. Perhaps the greatest value of coalitions today is their ability to influence public discourse. The government has removed protest from the toolbox of political activists and it has demonstrated their willingness to silence individuals and organizations that challenge them publicly. Yet, all of the coalitions have still been able use the media, member organizations’ networks, and volunteers to keep their issue relevant. Coalitions are an alternative form of collective action that not only provides a broader platform to disseminate information about a particular issue, but provides security to member organizations. This is best demonstrated in the Forum. While the purpose of each of the member organizations is to influence public policy, the Forum’s collective solidarity allows its members to deliver their messages and mitigate retaliation from the government. Connections to international institutions can also strengthen a coalitions’ position vis-à-vis the government. The Forum, ECCR, and NWRO have strong relationships with international institutions that they believe are important to their ability to continue their work.
In the current political environment, many politically active organizations, especially rights-based organizations, are either in a holding pattern or are working to prevent any regression in their respective fields. With a President who prioritizes security, economic growth, and increased investment above all other considerations and no legislature in place, there is minimal opportunity to achieve policy reform. In 2012, ECCR worked to resist the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to reduce the marriage age of women and legalize FGM. The Forum itself was threatened by the catastrophic human rights violations of the past year and EAC has reoriented itself from preventing coal imports altogether to mitigating the damage that coal imports will ultimately have on the environment and public health.
Regardless of the daunting prospects for reform in the near-future, these coalitions are looking forward, strengthening themselves and their member organizations for the time when a political opportunity arises. Parliamentary elections are fast approaching and local elections should follow soon thereafter. The success or failure of these coalitions will depend on their ability to not only survive, but to adapt to the dynamic political context.
Sources:NWRO.(2010) NWRO Code of Ethics. Network of Women’s Rights Organizations. Accessed 10 September 2014. Link
Tadros, M. (2011) Working Politically behind Red Lines: Structure and agency in a comparative study of women’s coalitions in Egypt in Jordan. Development Leadership Program. Link
Tattersall, A. (2013)Power in Coalition: Strategies for Strong Unions and Social Change. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Zayed, D. and J. Sowers. (2014) “The Campaign Against Coal in Egypt.” Middle East Report.271 Summer:29-35.
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