Fall 2011











New dean of undergraduate studies appointed, AUC mourns Stephen Everhart, graduate programs expand, Cairo Science and Engineering Festival at AUC, alumnae among 100 most powerful women, Gerhart Center expands outreach program


Mobinil scholarship recipient
Tarek Soliman '11 has made great
strides as a computer programmer

Alumni meet in various countries.

May Khourshed,'11 finds affinity with Egypt after living abroad for many years



By Madeline Welsh and Dalia Al Nimr

Azza Kamel '83, founder of Alwan wa Awtar NGO, is one of many alumni working to empower civil society as Egypt transitions to a new future

Kamel reading to children at Alwan wa Awtar's library in Mokattam

"Civil society has always filled a void," said Sherif Abdel Azeem, associate professor of electronics engineering
and founder of Resala charity organization, which has 49 branches nationwide and more than 100,000 volunteers. "The government should not be your grandfather. If the government does everything, then democracy is lost, people become apathetic and there is no life."

Before the January 25th revolution, Egypt had more than 28,000 registered nongovernmental organizations such as Resala. These NGOs either provided basic services such as education and health, or moved beyond the services realm to address development and reform issues. Today, as the country transitions from its autocratic past to a new future, the role of civil society is not only becoming more profound, but is being altered to fit the new political climate in Egypt.

"The country is going through change at all levels," said Azza Kamel '83, founder and chair of Alwan wa Awtar NGO based in Mokattam, which helps the underprivileged express themselves through art. "We are now requested to have a political role, vote in a constitutional referendum and elect a new president. Many of us are not ready for this, particularly marginalized communities. In light of these changes, civil society's main role now is to create awareness for the masses, help them understand that they shouldn't elect people who just satisfy their basic needs, and that they need to be involved in choosing a leader who will take Egypt to a whole new level.

Members of Resala engage in post-revolution street clean-ups

Ramadan activities organized by Resala






This will take time, but is better for all of us in the long run." Drawing prospects for a better future for the country, these NGOs are now thinking bigger and with less constraints than in the past. As explained by Ehaab Abdou '97, a member of the Federation of Egyptian Youth NGOs and co-founder of Fat'het Kheir and Nahdet El Mahrousa NGOs, the civil society sphere in Egypt is broadening. "There is definitely more space for civil society now, and we hope it is not temporary," said Abdou. "NGOs have started to speak more freely and engage in areas that were previously seen as taboo such as raising political awareness and holding debates about the constitution or policy change.

There are also many more informal initiatives such as neighborhood groups that are being set up everyday throughout the country, so it's a very positive start." On a related note, Barbara Ibrahim, director of AUC's John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement, said, "While civil society is no longer as restrained by an authoritarian regime, the energy and unleashing of innovative ideas will need to be met with capacity building for effective action. We see a large role for 'citizen business leaders' from the private sector to offer management and other organizing skills that civic groups will need to achieve their goals.

Egyptian universities also hold great potential to instill citizenship values and good practice in their students. All of this will be happening in a new atmosphere of empowerment. Youth coalitions, unions and professional syndicates are pushing back to change the rules of the game. They are more vocal –– demanding rather than complaining."

The Gerhart Center will concentrate its upcoming work in Egypt on programs to engage youth beyond the large metropolitan centers, encouraging more transparent forms of philanthropic giving and organizing peer-learning
opportunities among Egyptian university faculty and students. The community foundation model will be
promoted to help informal neighborhood groups grow. "Many of these groups are small yet agile," said Karim Shalaby, the center's philanthropy adviser.

"They do not have big goals of changing remote areas; they just want to serve their communities. We need to offer creative models to help them develop." According to Abdou, civil society is not only building a positive atmosphere in Egypt after the revolution, it played a major role in bringing about change. "I always say that it was Egypt's civil society work that helped prepare and lead to the revolution," Abdou said. "For years, civil society organizations have been giving youth the opportunity to express themselves; gain confidence and leadership skills; as well as appreciate the meaning of civic engagement, the value of serving one's
country and the ability to dream. So when the time was right, all those efforts converged in Tahrir, and civil
society contributed to sustaining the momentum."

Resala has 49 branches nationwide with more than 100,000 volunteers

Alwan wa Awtar NGO, founded by Kamel, helps the underprivileged express themselves through art

Moving forward, civil society organizations are longing for more freedom and, as Abdel Azeem put it, "for an end to the harassment of NGOs concerned with securing human rights and consumer protection." In contrast to the
governmental micro-management of the structure of NGOs, deciding on everything from the size of the board to the timing of elections, he looks forward to Resala being able to determine the size and maintenance of its own organizational structure, and to build upon what it has learned as an organization to serve the specific needs of the transitional period. "Resala's role is positive in the current circumstances just by being a source of spreading
activism, volunteerism and giving," he said."We know now that we own the country, and this is creating an impulsive spirit of giving that was not there before. Egypt needs this spirit more than anything."

Ayman Ismail '95, '97, a board member of Nahdet El Mahrousa NGO, which incubates youth social entrepreneurs and their projects, also highlighted the heightened sense of volunteerism. "The level of excitement is unprecedented," he said. "People wanted to feel ownership of their society, but had no faith in the system.
Now there is huge interest, and people want to donate their time and money, and contribute to the social and
political excitement."

On the other hand, this new interest in civil society and activist communities may actually cause a potentially
destabilizing period of transition.
"Many of our newest volunteers want to get into civil society, but never had experience," explained Loay El Shawarby '94. "There is a learning curve, and it will take time before they become effective. These new activists are also streaming in at a time when many of the leaders of different organizations and businessmen who have historically donated are moving into politics, also creating a void."

To face this challenging period of transition, Nahdet El Mahrousa has continued to strengthen existing programs, while adding several new initiatives that support the positive culture of the revolution. "We have just introduced five new social enterprises in arts, culture and political awareness, including a salon series that focuses on contemporary political, economic and social issues to support a spirit of discussion and positive discourse," said Ismail.

In addition to enhancing and adding programs to their line of work, civil society organizations need to have a unified and strong voice. "One of the main criticisms of Egypt's civil society is that it is highly fragmented," Abdou said. "There has to be more coordination and consensus-building among NGOs so that they
complement and not compete with each other. … Egypt's civil society played a key leadership role in bringing about the revolution and, hence, needs to be included and brought to the table. If we are serious about having civil society organizations as equal partners in Egypt's development and progress, then we need to help build their capacity and review restrictive laws and regulations such as the NGO law (84-2002), awqaf [endowment] law and others."

Echoing the same sentiment, Kamel noted, "Previously, civil society was seen as an enemy to the state, but with the proper government in place, we will work hand in hand with both the government and private sector. We have access to the masses, and with the right approach, will be able to address their needs and formulate agendas based on that. We have to stop living in a bubble and be able to reach people at the grass-roots level. Only then will we see positive change in the country."