Towards a Free & Independent Civil Society
States have sharply diverging views on civil society institutions,
whereby three patterns emerge with regard to dealing with non-governmental
organizations (and also to some extent the opposition political
parties which usually share many of the goals and activities of
civil society groups). These patterns can be listed as follows:
1. Confrontation & Hostility: Some
states do not even allow the establishment of civil society institutions
and consider them as a threat given their potential to end up as
a partner in the decision-making process involving any issue. Therefore
they outlaw the formation of NGO’s and bar them from being officially
registered. Sometimes there would not even exist a law for NGO’s.
In cases where organizations do get set up, such as charities, the
government intervenes and forces them to be legally attached to
an official authority (a mini?try or a governmental institution).
As such, the civil activity becomes restrained by government’s rules
and regulations thus discouraging citizens from interacting with
it. In other instances, these countries deliberately suppress activists
and volunteers by raiding their workplaces, confiscating their equipments
and throwing them in jail under the pretext of breaking the law.
2. Restricted Approval: This refers
to cases where restrictions are either partial or full. Some countries
allow NGO’s to operate without interference in certain issues but
restrict them in others and limit their activities, and not only
refrain from helping them but also impose arbitrary laws in order
to hinder their activities. Some of the methods used to restrain
the civil society and strangle the free environment include; not
allowing civil society groups to work freely or adopt stances contrary
to those taken by the authori?ies as well as preventing them from
questioning the performance of authorities. The latter also withholds
information on public matters, especially in societal issues in
which the civil society is supposed to contribute to finding solutions.
At the end of the day, these countries would have deprived themselves
and their communities from the value added and services offered
by civil society organizations because they have created a general
security and political atmosphere that is not conducive or encouraging
to any civil activities.
3. Complete lifting of Restrictions:
This is where some states allow the growth of civil society
organizations out of the realization of their extreme importance
in any lively society to solve its problems and improve the performance
of the state and bring important issues to the attention of the
government and add community and youth energies that would contribute
to the decision-making and to the tackling of the problems on the
ground, beside other roles. These states allow the establishment
of organizations, with varying orientation, and provid? them with
the political and legal environment that is conducive to their work,
and even put in place certain tax laws that encourage individuals
to donate to charities. Some states go as far as allowing peaceful
activities even if they came from non-legally registered organizations.
There is a huge variation in the vision between countries that
look upon civil society organizations as partners in development,
policies and public service and those who consider them a threat
and a burden or a troublesome competitor to authorities. The larger
the space that encourages the growth of civil society, the higher
the prospective of the emergence of a lively and active society
that is conscious of its responsibilities and is moving towards
building a democratic state. This is because communitie?, where
free and independent civil society flourishes, would most certainly
have the potentials to develop and their citizens would possess
the tools to dismantle the chains of tyranny through practical involvement
in the process of change, and through the freedom of expression
and assembly that has the capacity to destroy the foundations of
It is no wonder then that the existence and effectiveness of
civil society organizations is viewed as an indicator and a prelude
to the growth of democracy in a country. It should also not come
as a surprise that non-democratic countries are aware that the effects
of expanding community partnership in decision-making through the
institutions of civil society, even if confined to non-political
topics, will ultimately lead to the development of political, social,
economic, educational and other systems.
Some view this as an advantage and a benefit while others see
a risk, hence the different perceptions towards the civil society.
The benefits of civil society to any state are tremendous, as
such a civil society could : relieve the burden in the fields of
combating poverty and economic inequality, fighting corruption,
preserving the environment, spreading awareness, culture and moderation,
fighting incitement and hatred, standing up to violence and preventing
crime, rehabilitating and empowering the youngsters as well as women,
educating the society on the issues of social justice, contributing
to the protection of consumer rights? and providing social services
as well as proving to be of great significance during disasters.
There are other benefits that are of no less importance. Civil
society contributes to the promotion of public freedoms and defending
them, strengthening the rule of law and accountability, upgrading
the levels of transparency, protecting minorities and the rights
of vulnerable groups in the community among many other benefits.
To sum up, the civil society represents the cornerstone of stability
in the community, preventing unrest, strengthening the rule of law,
consolidating the stability of the political system and improving
its performance and protecting it from the evils of violence.