Archive for August, 2007

The latest issue of Capacity.org’s journal includes an article on rethinking capacity building. The author points to some very important points that i feel are more than relevant in Egypt. The author mentions some of the causes that he believes have led to many of the instances of failure to bring about improvements in efficacy.

First, “the providers of capacity building often misunderstand the capacity needs of their grantees.” True, in most cases. I think this can be improved in situations where local staff play significant roles in programming and implementation. But perhaps it’s the initial premise that’s a problem. “The expectations of short-term results, frequently associated with logical frameworks and results-based management matrices, can often be at odds with actual grantee needs.” While i acknowledge the brilliant methodological advantages of systematizing processes made possible by LogFrames and RBM, it is such a complex hassle. For one thing, the overhead required to design and maintain such a system is often beyond what is reasonable for the scale of actual activities.

Whereas i think the first problem may be a lot easier to remedy (paying more attention to local needs; thinking and operating on a long-term basis; simplifying complex bureaucratic procedures) the second cause he mentions are a little more problematic:

[C]apacity building efforts tend to focus on ‘technical’ capacities in NGOs, such as financial management, strategic planning, and indicator development. These technical skills do not strengthen an organisation’s analytical capacity – that is the organisation’s ability to step back and critically review its work and the changing environment in which it functions. Nor does traditional capacity building strengthen an NGO’s adaptive capacity – its ability to change behaviour as a result of that learning and reflection.

This is really right on the mark. One frequently thrown about bit of jargon is “learning organization.” I’ve yet to hear it from an NGO that i felt it applied to. Yes, the type of capacity building is problematic be it of the sort he mentions (i would call that administrative, not technical) or of the more substantive (what i would call technical) such as human rights, gender, etc. At the risk of generalization, i would say that Egyptians are lacking in critical and analytical skills which, naturally, is reflected in organizations.

One implication for donors is that they need to look at capacity building projects in the long term. This requires a shift towards an expectation of results over years rather than quarterly or annual budget cycles.


Another implication is that donors need to accept some responsibility for failure and ambiguity in capacity building. Non-profit organisations that lack analytical and adaptive capacities cannot be expected to identify their own capacity needs.

For NGOs, the greatest challenges lie in understanding the fact that capacity building is not just a ‘quick fix’ to satisfy donors. Building analytical and adaptive capacity requires organisational commitment to painful self-scrutiny.

This is perhaps easier said than done for a variety of reasons. For one thing, this is a culture that doesnt think too highly of mistakes, or of acknowledging and learning from them.

But, more significantly, there is the issue of intent, or motivation. I would say that the vast majority of individuals working in development in Egypt are not in it out of any sort of interest in change, passion for their nation or any other altruistic reason. They’re in it for the money. The fact about development is that it’s its own little sector with pay and benefits well above the national average. It cant be normal – or healthy – for non-profit salaries to be comparable to finance, IT and marketing. It strikes me as unnatural for people who got shafted with studying community service because their grades didnt get them into any other schools to be getting paid more than those that were at the tops of their classes. And not for any really valid reason other than that the funding is budgeted in dollars (or euros). To a Western official 1000 dollars a month may be negligible, but that’s immense amounts of money in Egypt.

This may seem like a minor problem, but it creates an unhealthy environment. One where nepotism, cronyism and back-scratching are the norm (you consult for me, I consult for you). One where people are just doing a job, not pursuing a vision. One where funding is sought to pay salaries, not address needs. One where “volunteers” really means people from the community that are paid on a non-salary basis. One where even the beneficiaries know what the “correct” responses to visiting foreigners’ questions are.

Very worrying, really.

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UPDATE: oops! forgot the link.

I just read a pretty interesting article in the National Geographic that takes a look at Islam in Pakistan and its relationship to both fundamentalist Islam and violent Islamists, entitled “Struggle for the Soul of Pakistan”. I have always, since my insect-observing science-obsessed nerdy childhood had a certain affection for NG and continue to consider it one of the best magazines, full stop. I suppose in nature you dont need to worry about the author’s slant so much.

Which is why I got so excited about their covering Islam in Pakistan just when the world (or the policy shapers, at least) is finally taking notice of the fuck-up that is Pakistan. (It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.) And I feel like I wasnt disappointed. Some excerpts:

This is also where two conflicting forms of Islam meet: the relatively relaxed and tolerant Islam of India, versus the rigid fundamentalism of the Afghan frontier. Beneath the surface of Pakistan, these opposing forces grind against each other like two vast geologic plates, rattling teacups from Lahore to London, Karachi to New York. The clash between moderates and extremists in Pakistan today reflects this rift, and can be seen as a microcosm for a larger struggle among Muslims everywhere. So when the earth trembles in Pakistan, the world pays attention.

It’s a little flowery. And the moderates/extremists polarity rings alarm bells in my head. But looking beyond the recent usurpation of the words, for someone who knows so little about south asia, the contrast of the schools of Islam is quite interesting and goes towards explaining a lot.


From the start, the founders of Pakistan intended their nation to be a refuge for Muslims, not an Islamic state. Pakistan was created when India, a British colony for nearly a hundred years, gained its independence and was partitioned into two countries along a hastily drawn border. Pakistan’s first leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and his brain trust of secular intellectuals created a fledgling democracy that gave Islam a cultural, rather than political, role in national life. Their Pakistan was to be a model of how Islam, merged with democratic ideals, could embrace the modern world. “Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense,” Jinnah said in his inaugural address, but “as citizens of the state.”

Sixty years later, having been educated in schools that teach mainly the Koran, the young women in the library are stunned when I mention Jinnah’s secular vision for Pakistan. “That is a lie,” Ayman says, her voice shaking with fury.


More than anyone, it was General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq who created Pakistan’s current generation of Islamic radicals, and the climate in which they thrive. A Punjabi general with a pencil-thin mustache and raccoon circles under his eyes, Zia seized power in a coup in 1977, had the democratically elected prime minister tried and hanged, and promptly pressed for the Islamization of Pakistan, calling for more religion in the classroom and the use of punishments such as flogging and amputations for crimes against Islam. To Zia, Pakistan’s secular founders, with their emphasis on Muslim culture, had it exactly backward. “We were created on the basis of Islam,” Zia said, and he set out to remake democratic Pakistan as a strict Islamic state—despite the fact that a large majority of Pakistanis were, and remain, moderates.

Whether by temperament or tradition, most Pakistani Muslims are more comfortable with the mystical and ecstatic rituals of Barelvi Islam, a colorful blend of Indian Islamic practice and Sufism. For a Punjabi farmer whose crop has just come in, it has always been more satisfying to hang out at a Sufi shrine listening to qawwali music and watching dervishes whirl than reciting the Koran in a fundamentalist mosque. Most Pakistanis, though powerless to resist, were lukewarm to Zia’s Islamization program, as was much of the outside world.

Naturally, what comes next is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and consequent aligning of CIA’s interests with those of Zia. And then, as we all know, by the 80s the madrassas were swelling with the “Zia Generation”. Coupled with the autonomy of tribal mountain regions, the rest is history.

But what of now?

In modern Pakistan, that’s [“I’m a Muslim,” says Edhi, “but my true religion is human rights.”] an increasingly lonely position. There are many thousands of dedicated doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers, and humanitarians—including some in government—who, like Edhi, are working to move their country forward, but the space in which they operate is shrinking. Recently, at Musharraf’s bidding, parliament passed a bill to restrict the activities of NGOs and human rights groups. Even as he promotes “enlightened moderation,” Musharraf accuses such groups of humiliating Pakistan by publicizing abuses, and declares them a threat to the national interest.

Such rhetoric only emboldens the Islamists, whose influence is growing across Pakistan.

Sounds familiar. And so does:

He explains what emboldens these young women to risk their lives for Islam: “This government has lost all credibility,” he says. “People look at Musharraf and they see a U.S. puppet who’s willing to declare war on fellow Muslims to satisfy America. They also see his generals getting rich, while they’re getting poorer every day. People are losing hope. Pakistan and its government are becoming two different things. This will have to change, and soon.”

So familiar, in fact, that all you have to do is change a few letters and it sounds like home.

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Niqab in Philly

Peter Spiro on Opinio Juris brings up the large number of niqab-covered women in Philadelphia, and points to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on them.

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BBC on Cairo Crime

Getting the Police Version in Cairo.

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National Public Radio has a six-part series on Iran and its neighbors that’s up on their website. According to the series, while Iranian leaders have long perceived their nation as the deserving leading power in the Middle East, it has only ever stumbled along trying to get there. It is only recent external factors that have raised the profile and influence of Iran. But this rise, framed as it has been since Safavid rule in opposition to Arab, Sunni neighbors, sparks fears among the rest of the countries in the region.

Naturally, this means that Saudi Arabia, taken to be the de facto leader of the moderate (or Sunni, or whatever the catch-phrase is) counterbalance is supposed to step up to the plate. However, many in Saudia believe this to be unrealistic because of both regional factors, and perhaps more importantly, domestic security and politics of religion. As such, they may, at least until the next US president, bide their time trying to minimize potential military confrontation. Although, with hardliners becoming scarcer in the administration, US policy is likely the continuing application of political and economic pressure.

Israel is framed in nuclear terms.

Syria, is a relationship shaped by common foes: Israel, Saddam’s Iraq and now the US. Iraq, on the other hand, is intertwined with Iran on multiple levels, including religion, history and politics.

Not very in depth. But interesting in that it is less tainted by American perspectives and fallacies than most of what’s in the media.

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FP just released the latest version of its Terrorism index. They surveyed 100 “experts” from various branches of govt, white house staff, intelligence, defense and scholars. Their results are pretty bleak from an American perspective. Not much that’s surprising really.

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Security, it seems, stormed a meeting of MB members in Mohandeseen over the weekend. They detained the group of about 20 people that included Essam El Erian. Here‘s an email sent to the Arabist that raises a good question regarding the detention of “moderate” leaders in the MB.

Of course, it could be read as just more of the regime’s recent policy of “boxing in the brothers” especially in light of all the recent attention their (draft/final) program has been receiving. In fact El Masry El Youm published the program in two parts last week. It’s in Arabic, obviously. I havent really had the time to do more than skim. It’s several thousand words long and covers a wide range of topics including the party’s principles, their views on the state and its foundations, the political system, the economy, national security, society among other things. If i get the time, i will try and post a translated brief on it soon.

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