Globalization and Civil Society: The Arab World

Nada Malakani
2019 / 4 / 6

Civil society has become the icon of globalization since 1990s. Arab civil society can be understood by globalization. The institutional capacity of globalization impacted Arab civil society in 1990s. Arab states applied market liberalization in 1980s- 1990s and accompanied it with a-limit-ed political openness “Inftah”. “Inftah” led to increasing numbers of CSOs and to the emergence of advocacy associations. Openness also encouraged the engagement of Arab civil society in the global civil society. This period was the birth of Arab civil society. However, openness was launched from above and thus political agency of civil society didn’t occur during “Inftah”. Only in 2011, the question of political agency became notable because civil society undertook a political role. Therefore, 2011 can be regarded as the rebirth of Arab civil society. In 2011, cyberspace represented the new public sphere of open discussion transcended vertical socio-political relations. It played a focal role in political mobilization. This role can be analyzed by the organizational capacity of globalization that is communicating people horizontally by social media. Nevertheless, civil society isn’t the magic tool to solve the crises of the region. It is conditioned by larger changes.

Key concepts: globalization, civil society, al mujtama al madani, al mujtama al ahlî, liberalization, cyberspace, institutional capacity, organizational capacity, political agency.

Since the third wave of democratization in Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America, it has been argued that the Arab world is the only region which remains far from this wave. In 2011 Arab civil society reproduced the global model of anti-authoritarian model. Therefore, many observers are now interested in exploring why and how Arab civil society has played a political role. If it is true that civil society overthrew authoritarianism in some Arab states, the future of its ability to consolidate democracy is very ambiguous due to many factors, such as the emergence of intolerant groups, terrorism, and the question of un-civility. Overthrowing regimes doesn’t mean consolidating democracy. I am engaged in this paper in highlighting the question of why and how we can understand civil society by focusing on globalization. I determine two births of Arab civil society. The first is during 1990s “liberalization”. The second has been started since 2011 “democratization” without certainty about its future. I focus on globalization not as the only player-;- rather I take it as one player. Globalization has been studied here by two dimensions. Market liberalization led to empower civil society to fill the gap left by state “institutional capacity”. In addition, cyberspace played an important role in the rebirth of Arab civil society “organizational capacity”.
Four basic arguments are explored in my papers. The first argument is that globalization is a provided an institutional capacity by which the Arab region was engaged in the global discourse on civil society. Manuel Castells, the Spanish sociologist associated with research on the information society, communication and globalization, defines the institutional capacity as the “…… deregulation, liberalization, and privatization of the rules and procedures used by a nation-state to keep control over the activities within its territory.” Arab states liberalized economic market influencing by the global neo-liberalism. The withdrawing of the Arab state from social provisions sector gave civil society the opportunity to flourish in terms of non-governmental associations. However, several questions marks were raised regarding the role of civil society in “hybrid authoritarian states” .The second argument is that liberalization was part of the Arab regimes’ effort to find a way out from the crisis of legitimacy which emerged in the pre-independence era and intensified in 1991 with the Gulf crisis. Arab regimes were more forced by global factors than by mechanisms of society. The third argument is that the new technological communication media was one player in political mobilization in 2011. Cyberspace as one dimension of the organizational capacity of globalization challenged the organizational aspect of the Arab civil society and also transcended ideology and vertical socio-political relations. Nevertheless, success in mobilization didn’t necessarily entail the success of cyberspace in consolidating democracy.
I start with a brief overview of the global journey of civil society. Defining the concept of Arab civil society is crucial in order to understand the specificity of Arab societies. Then, I discuss the liberalization period in 1980s- 1990s and how global changes impacted the Arab civil society. After that, I explain the re-birth of the Arab civil society in 2011 and the role of cyberspace. I conclude with summarizing the arguments and tackling some issues regarding Arab civil society and its relation to globalization.

A glance at the global journey of civil society and its land on the Arab region
The conceptualization of civil society was historically confined to national boundaries. Mary Khaldor, the professor of global governance at the London School of Economics, illustrates wide explanations of civil society before 1970s and 1980s had two common senses: the normative understanding according to which civil society was conceptualized to refer to a rule-governed society based on the consent of individuals. The second is that all definitions before the global era looked at civil society as a territorially tied concept.
During the Latin America and Eastern and Central Europe’s revolutions in 1970s-1980s, civil society started its global journey “the rebirth of civil society”. We can define three dimensions of the global journey that inaugurated by the third wave of democratization and the collapse of the Soviet -union-. Firstly, civil society represented both a withdrawal from state and move towards global rules. By the 1980s and 1990s neo-liberalism as the wave of market deregulation, privatization, and welfare-state withdrawal swept to developing countries. The universality of civil society became evident. On the one hand, international donors sought to support civil societies in developing countries without taking into account the specificity of culture and context. On the other hand, neo-liberalism that was adopted by developing countries led to the withdrawing of the state from service provisions sector. As a result, civil society appeared as a social compensation to fill the gap left by the state. Another dimension is the advancement of operational sub concepts of civil society. Civil society has become part of what John Hopkins Project calls “global associational revolution.” When civil society was born, it was conceptualized normatively by the ideas of civic values, civilized society, civil state, and non-violence. Civil society’s rebirth in 1980s was accompanied with new operational sub- concepts, such as NGOs, social movements, third sector, and NPOs. This new notion doesn’t diminish the normative understandings of civil society, rather it intensifies it. For example, there is a post-modern version of civil society which represents coming back to normative theory of civil society. It judges the concept of civil society as Euro-centric. As a consequence, civil society has become an omnibus concept. Several understandings of civil society from various approaches live with each other and they are sometimes contested. Thirdly, the journey to the global rules is part of the journey of the relation between state and civil society. Civil society was equated with political community (Aristotle). Then, it represented a civilized society that negated the state of nature (Hobbes). Hegel distinguished between state and civil society in the 19th century. In the Gramscian interpretation, civil society became as opposed to the state. During 1970s- 1980s revolutions, Gramscian understanding was rediscovered as the anti-authoritarian model of civil society. In 1990s, society meant overthrowing authoritarian regimes and reclaiming space that had encroached by the state. It also meant active citizenship. Civil society was the space in which citizens can influence the conditions in which they live. Since 1980s, civil society has become the platform of human and political agency to achieve democratization.
The Arab discourse on civil society is part of this global journey. Arab countries went through privatization and liberalization during 1980s- 1990s. The institutional capacity of globalization in terms of neo-liberal agenda encouraged the discourse on civil society as third sector to fill the gap left by the state. The birth of Arab civil society in 1990s was also connected to the expectations of the role of civil society in democratization. However, liberalization was not followed by democratization in 1990s.

Arab civil society
The idea of civil society is not new in the Arab world. Volunteerism, people initiatives, and religious charity: sadaqah (voluntary charity), waqf (public endowment), and Christian charity in the form of Ushour (non-obligatory giving to the Church of up to 10% of wages) – outside the family and the state – aiming at the public benefit has long roots in the Arab history. In Egypt, for instance, Cairo University was an association formulated by the indigenous initiatives in 1908. Geographical Association of Egypt was established by people’s initiatives in 1875. Arab civil society is thus an old-new phenomenon.

“Al mujtama al madani” and “al mujtama al ahlî “
There are three components of civil society concept in the Arab world. The first is al mujtama al ahlî which refers to indigenous society and local initiatives. It includes religious charity and social solidarity constituted around clans, tribes, and families. Al mujtama al ahlî is also used to refer to the absence of civil state in the Arab region. The term of al mujtama al madani “civil society” refers to modern liberal associations, such as cultural clubs, prodemocracy organizations, and professional syndicates.
There are two origins of civil society in the Arab context. The first is “al mujtama al madani” versus “Bedouin Society”. This sense is discussed by Mohammed Abed al-Gaberi, the contemporary Moroccan professor of philosophy and Islamic thought. To him, “al mujtama al madani” means assembling in cities. In this sense, “Madani” in the Arab thought derives from “Al tammadon” (Urbanism). There is another meaning that is explained by the contemporary Lebanese’s historian, Wagih Kawtharani. He analyzes civil society with the linkage to the idea of citizenship versus subjugation. The Ottoman Empire adopted constitutional reforms which were synchronized with the so- called “Renaissance in the Arab Region” in the 19th century. The aim of these reforms was to harmonize the concept of “mwatana” citizenship with “Ra’wyya Osmanya” (the primacy of Sultan over all social classes). Muslim thinkers had studied in Europe and came back, holding ideas about the institutions of the European modern. They called for “Equality, Justice, and Liberty”, refusing the centrality of the Ottoman authority. Accordingly, Wajih Kawtharani links civil society with the enlightened middle class and the status of citizenship.
What should be added is that Arab civil society is not a homogenous phenomenon. While Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Lebanon have many civil society organizations, other countries like Libya and Saudi Arabia don’t have a plenty of CSOs. Amani Kandil, the executive member in the Arab Network for NGOs, points out that it is better to look at Arab civil society as a heterogeneous phenomenon impacted by macro socio-cultural, economic, and political contexts.
With the advance of neo-liberal agenda in the Arab region in 1980s-1990s, the hegemonic trend was to conceptualize civil society operationally in terms of NGOs and third sector. The Arab academic community complied with the global concept of civil society as voluntary organizations located between the state and the market. The notion agreed on was based on the criteria adopted by the John Hopkins University’s International Comparative Project (volunteerism, the non-profit character, the work for public benefit, independence from government).

Society mechanisms and global mechanisms in the Arab world
Political and economic openness in the Arab region occurred during 1980s and 1990s. The nature, features, and impacts of this new policy on Arab civil society can be captured by understand the relation between state and civil society in the Arab region after independence. The emergence of independent Arab states was a consequence of struggle against the European colonialism. The national agenda of Arab regimes was national liberalization, economic growth, and mobilizing national energies to fight against Israel. Because the formation of the Arab states was paralleled by Israeli occupation of Palestine, it was believed that only a strong state can mobilize energies to end this occupation. Strong state was translated into one party system, state led economy, and restricting the role of civil society. People relinquished political rights for national aspiration. In the Gulf States, governments brought off social groups in the name of wealth. The status of civil society was either domination and containing (republic states)´-or-bringing off social groups (rentier monarchies) .
The Weberian understanding of modern state as legitimated and organized domination over a given territory doesn’t exist in the Arab context. Weberian state entails legal and rational modes of legitimacy´-or-what is called “organized domination”. What exists in the Arab context is the personal state based on kinship and charismatic leadership “traditional legitimacy”. Arab societies are segmentary societies in which primordial relations of clans, tribes, and families extend to politics. Hamdi Hassan points out that in the Arab societies, kinship is the principle that organizes political relations and determines identity. State itself becomes the embodiment of civic group based on social web of family and friends. He maintains that “the conception of the state as an organization of domination over a given territory had not existed. Rather, dawla essentially connotes a political body with three main components: a ruler, his troops, and a bureaucracy exclusively related to him.”
So, the Arab states are artificial creation by colonial powers and they are still in the state building stage. The socio- political relations in the Arab societies are more vertically constructed than horizontally. In other words, social and political structures in the Arab world are constituted around primordial connotations and there is a relative weakness of civic associations that protect people from the tyranny of the state. Two important results are remarkable. The first is what Brian Nelson in his book “The Making of The Modern State” argues that “Third World” states (including Arab countries) created by colonial powers as legal fictions and they are now states in name because they are trying to rule segmentary societies based on tribes and other local units that are the locus of political loyalty. He continues:
“….. and that (subordinate units) strive to -function- independently of the state.. These states are still in building process and face the same dilemmas that the modern Western state faced in overcoming the centripetal forces of their own segmental societies.” The second result is the mechanisms of society are rarely able to make a considerable change in social and political life. Hamdi Hassan argues that the entire social and political life of the Arab state was changing more in reaction to global factors than to mechanisms of society in 1990s. Civil society was one aspect of the impact of global change on the Arab region in 1990s.

Openness and liberalization “Inftah”
When Arab regimes went through “Inftah”, they did so due to many global pressures´-or-influences. With the collapse of the Soviet -union- and the increasing writings referred to the victory of democracy, it was thought that Arab world was the place that avoided the third wave of democratization.
Institutional capacity of globalization entails privatization and liberalization. Arab countries applied market liberalization in 1980s. The state led- economy paradigm was replaced with a new paradigm-;- the neo-liberal agenda (deregulation and privatization). Arab regimes associated market liberalization with a-limit-ed political liberalization, particularly after the Gulf Crisis in 1990-1991 which intensified threats to the legitimacy of the oil monarchies and exposed all Arab states to see the oppressive nature of the Iraqi regime. Economic liberalization and political openness were expected to give new positions of civil society in contributing to democratic reforms and to face the negative impacts of market liberalization on the poor due to the state’s withdrawal from providing basic needs. The adoption of market liberalization and structural reforms were accompanied with growing population in all Arab states (350 million in 2004) which contributed to increasing role of non-governmental organizations to fill the gap left by state. In other words, the expected roles of civil society came with the era of globalization and its influences on economic and political policies of the Arab states.
Did the expectations become reality in the period of Inftah?
Many observers analyze the reforms from above in the Arab world as “liberalization not democratization.” Nawaf Salam and Richard Norton affiliate to this analysis. Nawaf Salam explains that when Arab regimes adopted democratic openness was not due to their desire for rotation of power, rather to keep their power when they observed the crisis of legitimacy. Arab regimes neither ended the occupation of Palestine nor did they achieve economic growth and social justice. Augustus Richard Norton notices that Arab leaders during 1990s liberalized and didn’t democratize. He differentiates between the two processes. Liberalization refers to reformist measures to open up some outlets for free expression, to place-limit-s on the arbitrary exercise of power, and to permit political associations. Democratization which contains freely contested elections, popular participation in political life, and unchaining of the masses did not occur in 1990s. He also adds that the motivation of liberalization didn’t come from an idealistic conversion but from a pragmatic one to vent political steam and to relief economic pressures. Steven Heydemann analyzes this situation in terms of “hybrid authoritarianism”. During “Inftah”, coercion still existed. He maintains that this type of new authoritarianism combined the past coercion, corruption, and surveillance with innovations to respond to the threat of globalizations, market, and democratization.
The events of 11th September 2001 in the United States of America convinced the USA, Europe, and international organizations that the source of terrorism exportation was the lack of democracy and civil society. The pressures of the donor countries were based on the assumption that the support of organizations of civil society world-wide helps propagate the values of liberalism and democracy. Arab leaders found that it was necessary to open up certain spaces for growing social forces. This tendency was translated in the formulation of new associations like human rights organizations-;- especially in Morocco and Egypt in which these organizations increased from one´-or-two in the early nineteenth to 73 in Morocco and 132 for Egypt in 2010. In Tunisia, women associations increased from only one organization in 1956 to about 20 in 1989. However, one feature of hybrid authoritarianism was containing civil society. “GNGOs” refers to semi-official NGOs that don’t have an autonomous status. In addition, the hegemonic character of CSOs in the Arab region is welfare and charitable organizations ( 80-90% in the Gulf states, in Egypt 34 %.)
I conclude this part by noting that because the process of Inftah was launched from above in order to adapt to global events, the political agency of people “their ability and desire to change their political, economic, and social life” didn’t come with the process of Inftah. This doesn’t mean that political agency was completely absent. We can make additional studies adopting intra-comparative approach in each Arab state to understand the heterogeneous of political agency before 2011. However, what could be a general statement is that there has been no political change before 2011.

The rebirth of Arab civil society and the role of cyberspace
The year of 2011 was the year of the re-emergence of civil society discourse in the Arab region. While the period of the collapse of the Soviet -union- was the rebirth of discourse in the European countries, it was the period when civil society entered the academic and political discourse in the Arab states. In this way, there are two births of the discourse in the Arab region. The first one was during 1990s and the second one is 2011. Partial openness during liberalization in 1990s contributed to partial role of civil society. In 1990s, the rise of civil society was one aspect of institutional capacity of globalization. In 2011, civil society in Tunisia and Egypt was the platform of political agency in terms of anti-authoritarian model of civil society.
Cyberspace is one aspect of organizational capacity produced by globalization. Organizational capacity of globalization, as defined by Manuel Castells, is the ability to use networks as the flexible and interactive form of structures whatever activity in whatever domain. As I have explained above, socio-political relations are more vertically constructed than horizontally in the Arab societies. In 2011, cyberspace challenged this type of relations. It emerged as a new public sphere. Castells defines public sphere as “a network for communicating information and points of view and civil society is the organized expression of these views. The network society organizes its public sphere, more than any other historical form of organization, on the basis of media communication network.”
Some scholars such as Alexandra Zumpolle conceptualize new media “Twitter, Facebook, Blogs” in terms of new public sphere of discursive democracy because it facilitates communication between all social groups regardless of class differences. In Egypt, as the author explains, the revolution was a digital revolution that challenged the governmental censorship over media. It also provided a space in which people held open discussion, affected public opinion and international support, accessed to western population, and spread information globally. In a few words, cyberspace served a role of ad hoc mobilization actor´-or-the space where civic groups influenced people’s mind to transfer their agency into political action (in Tahrir Square in the case of Egypt)
The focal role played by social media in Tunisia and Egypt has led some scholars to raise new arguments about the role of cyberspace in challenging the organizational aspect of civil society. It has been argued that civil society discourse should focus on non-traditional structures. Amani Kandil discusses the role of flexible channels provided by internet for Arab youth in political mobilization. In contrast to traditional structure of civil society, cyberspace has engaged in political sphere without ideology.
However, two critical points should be presented regarding the relation between cyberspace and political mobilization. This new public sphere isn’t accessible by everyone. In Egypt, “in 2011 only 25 per cent of Egyptian households were connected to the Internet, only 4 per cent of Egyptian adults were members of Facebook, and only a miniscule 0.15 per cent of them had a Twitter account.” In addition, the usage of cyberspace in the Arab context is neither a product of democracy nor a tool for democracy, but an indication for human agency to open spaces for public discussion. A report published by Sean Aday, Deen Freelon and Marc Lynch points out that social media played a very significant role in mobilizing people in Egypt. Nevertheless, “social media challenges democratic consolidation by accelerating and intensifying dangerous trends such as polarization, fear and dehumanization of rivals …social media groups become less open overtime… media published
Accordingly, to play an important role in mobilization doesn’t mean that cyberspace contributes to building democracy. Testing relation (positive´-or-negative) between cyberspace and consolidating democracy is beyond my paper. I just wanted to explain how cyberspace as an organizational capacity of globalization challenged vertical socio-political structures in 2011.
In addition, cyberspace is not always used for political mobilization. The Arab Millennium Development Goals Report in 2013 shows that the Gulf States register the higher indicates in the usage of social media “GCC countries have the highest usage rate, with Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates leading in terms of Facebook and Twitter.” If we look into politics, we can find that cyberspace is not that important factor in changing rentier politics of the Gulf region. Therefore, analyzing Arab uprisings as digital revolutions is not accurate. However, cyberspace in the Arab case helped to access to international opinion beyond official and governmental narratives. (the Tahrir Square Film on YouTube)

Concluding Remarks
Although civil society entered the Arab discourse as part of the universality of western civil society in 1990s, globalization enables researchers to re-evaluate the concept of civil society in terms of “context”. The context of civil society is a meaningful mixture of historical, political, cultural, and social circumstances that give the subject matter its heterogeneous meaning. There is no single place for the phenomenon of civil society. Michaelle Browers, the assistant professor of political science visited Tunisia in 1990s then she published the book of Democracy and Civil Society in the Arab Political Thought in 2006. She entitled the first chapter into Towards the Transcultural Study of Political Concept, defining “Transculturalion” as the way in which distinct cultures impact each other to produce not a single culture. The author continued that globalization should give impetus to pay a sufficient attention to how scholars from non-western contexts theorize civil society to understand their own social and political situations.
Globalization and civil society has been studied from different perspectives. In my paper, I studied this subject from historical and political perspectives in the context of Arab world. Arab political upheavals-;- the so- called Arab Spring, now occupies the center interest of political scientists. I argued that civil society isn’t a new phenomenon. The idea of intermediary space outside the state and the market traced back to the ancient history of Arab region. However, the birth of discourse was during 1990s. I pointed out that this birth was a product of the institutional capacity of globalization that was the privatization and deregulation. Empowering local civil society to face the social problems resulted from unfettered globalization.
Arab regimes were forced to launch economic liberalization and a-limit-ed political liberalization. Hybrid authoritarianism entailed open up spaces for civic associations but not without containing them. The strong state- weak society since independence, vertical socio-political relations, colonialism, and the occupation of Israel made the entire social and political life of the Arab state changed more in reaction to global factors than to mechanisms of society. The question of political agency appeared only in 2011. Civil society in 2011 reproduced the global model of “anti-authoritarian´-or-anti-politics civil society. Cyberspace is one dimension of the organizational capacity of globalization. It played a focal role in building horizontal communicational relations with uncertainty regarding its role in consolidating democracy.
Civil society isn’t a magic tool for solving the crises of the Arab region. Un-civility and armed conflicts could not be ended only by civil society. Unless civil society puts national interests prior to narrow radii of trust (tribes, sects, extremist Islamists) and unless it contributes to tolerance and to build civic ties in association with citizens and elites, international agencies and global system will get benefits from chaos and exploit the weakness of Arab governance. “The case of Libya”


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