Libyans believe that civil society organizations are vital to
their fledgling democracy, but civic groups are having a hard time
getting funding and developing know-how.
It was a hot, still afternoon last week in Tripoli when three
young men entered a four-star hotel on the waterfront armed with a
letter. It began with a Quranic verse about God's favor toward the
righteous: "Whatever good you prepare for yourselves, you will find
it with God, better and greater in reward."
The men belonged to the Child and Promise Association, a new
child welfare group that is part of post-Qaddafi Libya's fledgling
civil society. They hoped to use the hotel garden for a fundraising
Interim leaders say civil society is vital to repairing a country
ravaged by dictatorship. But while civic groups are at last able to
operate freely, they now face a struggle for know-how and cash.
"They are needed almost everywhere," says Atia Lawgali, deputy
minister of culture and civil society. "In rebuilding our
institutions, to encourage people's participation, to fight
corruption, to name only a few areas."
Libya inherited those challenges and others from Muammar Qaddafi,
who dismantled state institutions after seizing power in 1969 and
crushed civic ones. Political parties and trade unions were banned,
while civil society groups needed 50 members and a thorough vetting
by security services for permission to operate. In recent years
Qaddafi's family members created pro-regime NGOs that swallowed up
public funds while public services sank into ruin, says Mr. Lawgali.
When war began peeling back Qaddafi's regime, new charities -
often groups of friends and neighbors - arose to help organize,
feed, and educate Libyans. Interim authorities want those groups to
keep working, says Lamia Abusedra, a board member of a state support
center for NGOs that will open soon in Benghazi, with branches
But many groups who registered with authorities have shut down
for lack of direction or means, she says. The new center will offer
services, including training in management, project planning, and
"They played a great role in the revolution, but it's difficult
to say now who is still up and running," she says. "We're very
worried that the energy we've seen in civil society could fade out."
A "delay" in public funding - because "some groups don't want public
funding without a transparent mechanism that is fair for all" - also
poses an obstacle, Abusedra says.
Authorities are currently ironing out policy on giving state
support to civil society groups without threatening their
independence or allowing abuse of funds, says Lawgali. For now, many
are seeking private donors. …