THE ANGRY ARAB: The NGO Invasion of the Arab World

Over the past 20 years the outbreak of “civil-society” groups has changed the political culture in ways that serve Western colonial interests, writes As`ad AbuKhalil.

 René Moawad Foundation’s 26th Annual Benefit Gala, Nov. 4, 2019. (YouTube)

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

During the last few decades the number of Western-supported NGOs has substantially increased in all Arab countries.  In 2015, the Palestinian prime minister estimated that the West spent $800 million on funding 2882 NGOs in the West Bank alone. 

This investment has brought good returns to Western governments in the form of significant changes in the dominant political culture. 

During the Cold War, Western policies focused on supporting regimes and political parties to thwart communism, socialism and Arab nationalism.  But Western governments seem to have lost faith in political parties, probably because younger Arabs are less likely to join them.

Recent protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan revealed a diminished — almost non-existent — role for political parties. Older generations of Arabs flocked to the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, Arab nationalist parties and leftist parties and organizations. This is no longer the case.  It is probably because political parties are associated with a corrupt order that Arab youth forswear them in favor of membership in Facebook and Whatsapp groups. 

Protesters in Baghdad, Oct. 1, 2019. (Alrafidain TV, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Western governments are aware of this change and have increased their funding for NGOs — and always in the name of human rights, women’s rights, and “democracy promotion.” Local governments — even allies and clients of the U.S. — are quite cognizant of the increased roles of NGOs and they are not reluctant to arrest and harass members of local NGOs.

The rise in the role of NGOs coincided with the end of the Cold War; it was the time when Western academics were obsessed with the concept of civil society.   Academic conferences and workshops were held to discuss the role of civil society and NGOs began to sprout throughout the region. 

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But there was something suspicious about that: While there are no reliable numbers for NGOs in the Middle East region, Western governments seem to have invested in NGOs in the areas surrounding Israel (especially in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan).  NGOs dealt with issues in ways that have been instrumental in changing the political culture of the Arab world.

Against Arab Unity

Firstly, NGOs operate against the very principle of Arab nationalism and unity.  Instead of treating the Arab people as one — as they see themselves — NGOs commonly refer to the Arab world as “the MENA (Middle East-North Africa) region.” The term erases any political identity that excludes the Israeli occupation state.  The MENA region has become the standard lexicon of NGOs in the Arab world.

Secondly, NGOs deal primarily with issues where Arabs are victims of other Arabs but never when they are victims of Westerners.  There are NGOs that deal with “honor crimes” and with “domestic violence” but Western governments won’t be interested in funding NGOs that track the number of deaths caused by Western and Israeli bombs.  It is very much the mentality of white supremacist racists who refer to “black-on-black crime” but who are not bothered by police shooting of blacks. 

Thirdly, NGOs in the Arab world routinely promote peace, pacifism, and “acceptance of the other.” While those ideals may sound laudable, they also happen to suit the Western agenda of pushing for normalization with Israel.  Arab lands are still occupied by Israel (in Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and it is questionable that Egypt has sovereignty over territories that Israel vacated in the Sinai according to the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty). Israel continues to commit aggression against Arabs.

In the last few years alone, Israel has bombed targets in Sudan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, and perpetrated assassination against Arabs and Iranians worldwide. The notion that Arabs should adhere to non-violence when they face not only Israeli occupation but also Western invasions of their lands (from Libya to Iraq) is a recipe for surrender to foreign rule.  How would the French resistance against Nazi occupation have dealt with calls for pacifism? And how would the Americans in the Revolutionary War deal with those who were preaching “acceptance of the other” and non-violent struggle?

New Rhetoric Required 

Fourthly, the staff of NGOs all fall under strict guidelines and political parameters.  When radicals or leftists join NGO ranks, they change. Talk of radical change is replaced with Western rhetoric about political liberalization. (This holds true as long as the governments are not clients of the U.S. You don’t see Western NGOs operating in any of the Gulf countries. The only human rights organization permitted in Saudi Arabia is government-created and never faults the regime for its human rights violations.) The political language of the NGOs becomes adopted by the educated urban youth who parrot the vocabulary of Western foreign ministries. The Arab-Israeli conflict becomes the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” 

Sign displayed at Aug. 12, 2006, Rally in Toronto, Canada. against Israeli aggression/occupation of Palestine and Lebanon. (humbleslave. Flickr)

Fifthly, the roles of Arab NGOs are reliably situated within the spectrum of a right-wing reactionary political coalition.  All Western NGOs in Lebanon, for example, operate as an appendage of the right-wing pro-Saudi/pro-U.S. camp, and Western human rights organizations (like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International) are almost non-declared members of the right-wing establishment in the country. In Lebanon, the Rene Moawad Foundation has emerged as a favorite recipient of U.S. funds, and its annual galas at five-star hotels in Washington, D.C., attract such local luminaries as Paul Wolfowitz. 

But within Lebanon, the foundation is associated with its founder, Nayla Moawad, a former MP who is on the far right of the March 14 right-wing collation (with the ultimate focus being the need to disarm Hizbullah, which stands as the only deterrent against Israeli aggression on Lebanon).  In his recent trip to Lebanon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the home of only one person, Michel Moawad, the son of Nayla Moawad, who spoke about longtime friendship with Pompeo. 

It is not clear why U.S. officials are so pleased with the work of this foundation since NGOs, for all their touting of openness, operate very opaquely and don’t release specifics about either their funding or actual programs. It is not unreasonable to assume that local NGOs are assigned political roles by Western funders.  U.S. funding to the American University of Beirut is so tied to its political agenda that the U.S. government, a few years ago, actually asked the administration there to investigate the political leanings of the parents of every student who receives a U.S.-funded scholarship at the university. (The administration at the time refused.) 

Sixthly, in the age of high unemployment among the Arab youth, the salaries of Western-funded NGOs are highly prized. When local journalists rise in their profession, they dream of securing an NGO job. For that, young Arab journalists adhere to political standards that are favored by NGOs.  Few for example dare to support resistance to Israel, knowing that it would be a disqualifier. And few dare to question the wisdom of capitalism or of Western wars on terrorism.

Seventhly, Western governments are not the only players in funding of Arab NGOs. Private funders are active as well. The Soros foundation has become quite active in the Arab world and funds a variety of organizations and even Arabic news websites.  While anti-Semitic European rightists are obsessed with George Soros, the roles of Soros in funding reactionary Arab groups is undeniable.

Western intervention and control of the Arab world have taken many shapes and forms over the years. In this millennium, Western governments have gotten excited over the ability of NGOs to further their colonial interests by polluting Arab political culture with Western political terminology that doesn’t threaten Western or Israeli interests. 

But there is an increasing awareness in the region of NGO influence. In some media, concern over their roles has sometimes achieved an exaggerated conspiratorial tone.  But it is indubitable that NGOs which receive Western funding are given expanding roles in countries surrounding occupied Palestine, and their agenda is not necessarily reflected in the lofty ideals they print on their glossy brochures.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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10 comments for “THE ANGRY ARAB: The NGO Invasion of the Arab World

  1. robert e williamson jr
    January 9, 2020 at 16:36

    To my friend the moderator:

    You do realize of course that the Book by Arthur Darling , THE CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, AN INSTRUMENT OF GOVERNMENT TO 1950, penn state press was much maligned by Alan Dulles for it’s brazen truthfulness and that Darling was an official historian charged with the task of recording this very early history.

    You may want to read it Darling documents the cut throat nature of the in fighting that took place during the initial stages of the Blum and Dulles’ construction of the Agency. Writing phony reports and all.

    Blum/Dulles desires are manifest in the USA’s early involvement in Vietnam. In this day and age one can try and destroy and hide the truth but the inevitable is unstoppable.

    Some people definitely should never be trusted with the serious responsibility for the rest of civilizations safety, especially when their path to rapture and heaven cross my front lawn and eliminate civilization in the process.

    These people present a clear and present danger to themselves and others and should be dealt with accordingly. This isn’t rocket science similar more to the sound reasoning behind not allowing 12 year olds to drive vehicles.

    What is it that famous cynical, tongue in cheek motto of CIA? Something like “The truth shall set you free!”

    Thanks again for your time but the hour grows late for all. No I’m agnostic.

  2. robert e williamson jr
    January 9, 2020 at 10:32

    Addendum to my Jan 8th 2020 post.

    On November 1, 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu were murdered in the back of an armored personnel carrier by ARNV officers. A move that shocked JFK. The two had surrendered on the promise of safety during arrests.

    Just a reminder that events in Vietnam at the time appeared to have had CIA finger prints all over them and that pressure on Robert Blum had forced him to separate himself from the Asian Foundation. All one needs to do is check the history of the Foundation.

    The murder of the two brothers is more evidence that JFK’s wishes was often ignored by some military officials and the CIA in general.

    JFK would be dead by the end of the month, many now believe that CIA some officials knew this.

  3. Drew Hunkins
    January 8, 2020 at 17:35

    This is a tremendous piece by the surly Arab.

    I’ve always been suspicious of many of these NGOs that under the veneer of d0-gooder-ism merely perpetuate Western imperialism and domination.

    Another source that’s critical of the perfidy of NGOs and documents it in an insightful manner is Mike Davis’ great book “Planet of Slums.”

  4. AnneR
    January 8, 2020 at 09:26

    Thank you, Professor AbuKhalil, for this piece. Yes, indeed – western NGOs are indeed very dodgy, western government and “foundation” funded, supported. And exist to promote so-called western “values” in order to bring all non-western countries into line with the western corporate-capitalist-imperialist diktats and, as a corollary, accept the ethnic-cleansing, occupational state of “Israel.”

    An insightful interrogation of the part that human rights organizations (NGOs) play in maintaining “Israel’s” (applicable to other places) “right” to its never-ending theft from, destruction and violence toward Palestinians can be read in Perugini & Gordon’s book, The Human Right to Dominate. It leaves one completely disillusioned about *any* so-called NGO.

    I would also suggest that another source of westernization of the younger generations of the Arab world (indeed throughout the non-western world) are the “International,” “American” schools that are to be found pretty much everywhere and that cater to the children of the better off-wealthy sections of these societies. These schools offer a thoroughly western education and, via the International Baccalaureate (IB), entry into western universities which only deepens the westernization of the non-western world’s bourgeoisie, at all its levels.

  5. Mark Thomason
    January 7, 2020 at 20:27

    The very name “NGO” is a lie. They are not non-governmental organizations. They are foreign government organizations sent in to meddle in the politics of a country not their own. They are everything of which the US accused Russia in the outrage over the 2016 elections. They do it constantly, on a massive scale, that is concealed behind blinding lies like their very names.

    Congress funds the American NGO’s. They are funded via grants to things like the Republican and Democratic Party organizations, that act at the direction of the State Dept, and via this one or two step remove do what the US government seeks. Private money is largely aligned with political donor money sources, doing what donors want their own government to do in those other countries.

    • Seamus Padraig
      January 8, 2020 at 06:39

      Yup. And even the ‘real’ NGOs are often fake, too. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for example, are notorious for serving as revolving doors with the State Department and the CIA.

      All these NGOs, whether officially public or private, ultimately exist for one reason and one reason only: subversion.

  6. Charles de Freitas
    January 7, 2020 at 19:13

    Surely if one’s son or daughter suddenly started to exhibit a different lifestyle —complete with an unexplained source of income— it would be prudent to ask some extremely pertinent questions.
    Personally, I’d be seriously suspicious.

  7. Jeff Harrison
    January 7, 2020 at 17:08

    Would somebody explain why countries allow American/European NGOs to operate in their countries. It should be intuitively obvious to the most casual of observers that the NGOs will be pushing the colonial/neo colonial agendas of their home countries or, are straight up spies like the ironically named National Endowment for Democracy, a notorious CIA front

    • torture this
      January 8, 2020 at 11:30

      If it’s not bribes, I’d like to know, too. But, it’s the bribes.

    • robert e williamson jr
      January 8, 2020 at 16:42

      Jeff in answer to your question about why these organizations are allowed to operate in their countries. You play with American or European marbles because you don’t have marbles of your own. These countries either play by US or European rules or they don’t play.

      But we must go back to the creation of the CIA to understand what is really happening here.

      Robert Blum worked hand in hand with Allen Dulles when they created much of the structure to be used by CIA. Blum was of the mind that the CIA should be privately funded. Some measure of proof of this was the Asian Foundation which he founded in 1954 and was President of the Board of Trustees until 1962.

      Blum was an Asian affairs specialist and a former international relations instructor at Yale. A veteran diplomat Dr. Blum was an assistant to James Forrestal: Chief of U.S. Special Technical and Economic Mission for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and assistant deputy for economic affairs to President Eisenhower’s special representative for the for the Mutual Security Administration in Europe. He had also worked for OSS during the war.

      He was thoroughly involved in the foundation during the time he was working with Allen Dulles to create a CIA in “THEIR VISION”.

      In September 1961 congress passed the Foreign Assistance Act. And here is where I believe things get interesting. In Nov of 1961 JFK fired Allen Dulles and needed a replacement. First choice was Clark Clifford, JFK’s personal lawyer who refused, then Fowler Hamilton, Wall Street lawyer who accepted but according to the story something important , ” a problem”, came up at Agency for International Development (USAID), Hamilton went there and at the urging of RFK John McCone replaced Dulles at CIA.

      Something I believe was a big mistake because I believe the “something didn’t happen at USAID but that problem was when JFK fired Dulles.

      It remains that USAID became an active agency of a variety Blum would have approved of. Educated speculation on my part.

      As`ad Abukhalil you are correct but this all started for Iran and others in that area much earlier than 20 years ago, try 40 years. From my view point USAID is used by the CIA at will and always has been. It should be no surprise to anyone that Helms was U.S. Ambassador to Iran 1973-1978. Helms also spent much of the summer of 1979 in Iran on “private business” (from A SEASON OF INQUIRY REVISITED BY LOCH K JOHNSON. And yes I can find the page number if anyone has to see it. Then the Iranian crisis.

      NGO’s were what Blum lusted for and that seems to be what he got.

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