The concept of charity and moral responsibility lies in each of the three Abrahamic religions, and is based on a simple principle of taking from those who received consistent material blessings and give those less fortunate. Thus Arab region is the cradle of one of the oldest traditions in the world, to promote social responsibility. Generosity has dressed many forms of manifestation and the basis for ethical codes enshrined in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
For centuries waqf has been the Islamic institution responsible for managing zakat, serving as a public policy tool that positively influenced the economic development. In the late 20th century appeared other charitable forms of organization, based on religious or secular reasons, operating at regional level or isolated, strictly for the temporary identified needs. There are western model foundations, whose donors can be individuals, families or companies, with varying objectives, cultural, social or focused on economical development. Such groups, whether they are called foundations, associations or non-governmental organization, are designed to fund the communities they serve.
The newest strategic philanthropy has become a trend in the Arab region and operates through non-profit organizational forms, focusing the awareness of the need for transparency in the mobilization of philanthropy, in order to make social change. Depending on the motivations of donors, philanthropy is divided into informal giving and institutionalized philanthropy. Why people give? The motivations might be tradition, religious duty or simply for the social benefit. We can easily use one single specific word: takaful, an Arabic word which means solidarity. For better illustrating this concept, the following lines are about takaful evolvement in the academic context.
John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement, at The American University in Cairo, organized in June 2012 the annual research conference on Arab Philanthropy and Civic Engagement that brought together public officials, business leaders, researchers, students and common citizens.
The keynote speaker of the conference was the human rights Tunisian lawyer, Radhia Nasraoui, co-founder and president of the Association for Fight against Torture. Her special video session “Women of the Arab Awakening – Will they Reap the Fruit of their Revolt” was a human rights advocacy and a call to vigilance directed particularly at women, especially in the context of the Arab Spring.
Rim Grioui, youth activist from Tunisia, enjoyed the audience with her interesting session called “Youth Civic Engagement and the success of the Arab Spring”, a case study on the youth projects “Voting is Our Voice” and “Voter Education”, founded by Middle East Partnership Initiative, focused on the understanding of political voting and civic engagement, using modern technology.
With great importance for the economical climate of today`s Egypt, Mohammad Ramadan has had a qualitative redefining presentation about Philanthropy in Egypt: the Hidden Hand for Supporting the Vulnerable. Another session about philanthropy emphasized “The Role of the Foundations`s Sector in addressing “Key Issues of the Arab Spring” trough the presentation of Rania Hamoud, managing director of the Mansour Foundation for Development, one of the early foundations that is fully and solely founded by an Egyptian family. Mansour Foundation aims at welfare and socio-economic development of Egyptian society and is strongly dedicated to the eradication of illiteracy, poverty and diseases, everything under a suggestive quotation ”what you do speaks so loudly than what you say”, to underline the long-term development orientation of the foundation.
“No Spring without Flowers, no Arab Spring without Women” was the presentation of Dalia Ziada, feminist activist, based on the essential role of women in Egypt democratization. Unfortunately, the continued discrimination against women and their underrepresentation in politics, how Dalia said, might be attributed to the patriarchal nature of the Egyptian society. The legal reforms in favour of women before the revolution made them vulnerable to attach by those who do not believe in gender equality.
The session of Attalah Kuttab, founding member of Arab Foundation Forum, “Accountability and Transparency within the Philanthropy and Grant-making sector” was focused on how to drive more accountability and transparency in the philanthropy sector, on how government to come up with better regulatory structures including relevant laws.
Dr. Barbara Ibrahim, director of the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement, leading feminist sociologist of the Arab World, generously gave few answers for MEPEI.
Might be philanthropy a new instrument to improve the human security in the Egyptian society?
I think I have to answer that question by telling you that philanthropy is very old in the Arab world, it`s really part of the cultural DNA of the Arab societies, where the conditions of desert areas were very hard and you had to offer hospitality, food and drink to anyone in need. That was the way society survived! This idea Takaful of social solidarity is very much at the heart of Arab philanthropy. What has happened over time is that is become limited in its scope to charity to immediate needs, rather than thinking about more basic welfare, security, well-being, or systemic change. So when I think about what`s new in philanthropy it will be those trends which are now a small number of organizations and very influential individuals that are pushing for strategic philanthropy.
The Arab philanthropy is a helpful hand for women, is long-term organised to follow such projects?
We have a number of foundations that make grants for women`s organizations, but I think it`s more common to have NGO that are women`s organization to apply for funding, and then they would also give their funding to smaller women`s groups to help, kind of intermediaries between international donors and the local area. But to be in a quite honest I have to say that gender is not one of the main areas to work.
What kind of actors get involved philanthropy in Egypt? What type of partnership between public institutions and private organizations can be?
We have to say before the revolution and after the revolution! Before the revolution I think it was fare to say that some parts of government were working with UN agencies and international donors, on some important initiatives, like making sure that we have a good database on youth and young women, a pilot experiment to bring young women back in the education and to eliminate early marriage, so those were the examples where was a good cooperation, but, in any area there was likely controversial. You wouldn`t find that kind of cooperation inside government, very reluctant to get involved. I once knew a group that wanted to work on women prisoners but government would not touch!
Social media is a good partner for philanthropy organizations, is utilized to inform and mobilize people to be active in funding?
I think social media is increasingly important, in fact after the revolution we had some funding mechanisms that were initiated on Twitter for example. People that have a lot of followers getting together and deciding to use that reputation to try to get reward about the needs of the poverty community, but those were experimental, we don`t yet really know what`s going to be effective. There is a tiny minority that used social media, but the last majority used their cell phones, perhaps we are not very good at using them.
Are you optimistic about post-revolution philanthropy, which are the priorities on the working agenda especially after these elections?
Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are all moving into a more religiously based era, in which people who felt that Islamism was repressed, are going to want to show that they can reform banking to make it more effective, that they can generate more charity, that they can revive waqf mechanism, and I think that`s healthy, I`m not in favour of restricting, but let`s not close other channels, secular channels need to be opened, also depending on who`s the president. You`ll either get a lot of emphasis on religious mechanisms, as some people lobby infidel, other say no, let`s keep things they always been.
Was Arab Spring gender emancipator or Egyptian society is still gender problematic?
Egypt has always been a more gender equal society, than almost any other in the Arab World, Tunisia and Morocco are two other places, but for example since 1950, entrance university has been completely on the basis of merits, entrance to any government position can be on basis of seniority or merits, so women were rising very high places, women are often ruling their own business, heading up their own family, so it`s not like the Gulf. It`s just that if you are poor and disadvantaged you are still under the old conservative traditional problematic unfair construction and for many of them is very hard to change that. Unfortunately Suzanne Mubarak supported many initiatives, so instead of separating her from the ideas now some people utter, she championed girl`s education rising, made possible for children to have the citizenship of their mothers.
- Baskan, Birol, Waqf System as a Redistribution Mechanism in Ottoman Empire, Center for Middle East Studies, University of Chicago, 2002.
- Bremer, Jennifer, Islamic Philanthropy: Reviving Traditional Forms for Building Social Justice, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, Washington, 2004.
- Benthall, Jonathan, Organised Charity in the Arab-Islamic World: A view from the NGO`s in Hasting Donnan (ed.), Interpreitng Islam, London, Sage, 2002.
- Cizakca, Murat, A History of Philanthropic Foundations: The Islamic World From the Seventh Century to the Present, Istanbul, 2000.
- Henningan, Peter C., The Birth of a Legal Institution: The formation of the Waqf in the Third –Century A.H. Hanafi Legal Discourse, London, 2004.
Roxana Apalaghie participated in “Takaful 2012 Conference: Second Annual Conference on Arab Philanthropy and Civic Engagement”, organized by The American University in Cairo between 10th and 12th June 2012 Cairo, Egypt.