Middle East and North Africa

Democratic backsliding and acute social and economic challenges across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have overtaken the democratic progress and optimism following the political upheavals referred to as the “Arab Spring” of 2010-11. Across the region, there has been a rise in political tension and instability resulting from failure by the region’s governments to respond to citizens’ needs and deliver services, a rise in malign influence of foreign actors and systematic efforts across the region to consolidate power by leaderships. Nevertheless, as widespread protests in recent years have demonstrated, the people of the region continue to demand that their rights be recognized. To support them, IFES partners with governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to strengthen governance systems, administer credible elections and entrench democratic gains.

Over the last three decades, IFES has worked in over a dozen MENA countries in conflict, post-conflict and transitional situations to increase electoral integrity and public trust in democratic processes. IFES’ programming strengthens electoral processes and governance systems by working with democratic institutions and key stakeholders, including civil society and elected leaders, to build the government’s capacity and provide citizens with information and opportunities to engage politically. In Iraq, IFES’ elections programming addresses all phases of the electoral process, from legal framework development, through electoral operations and into post-elections strategic planning and capacity building. In Tunisia, IFES has worked closely with electoral stakeholders to successfully hold local and national-level elections; collaborated with civil society, and especially persons with disabilities, women and youth, to promote civic and political engagement; and worked with the media to strengthen its role as a pillar of democracy. In Libya, IFES is a trusted partner of the High National Elections Commission and works with stakeholders to improve the regulatory framework for electoral dispute resolution (EDR). Finally, IFES works with the Ministry of Education in Tunisia and Libya to introduce civic education to school curricula, preparing new generations of voters to participate in their country’s democratic development.

In addition to elections programming, IFES works extensively to promote inclusion across the MENA region. In Lebanon, IFES gathers civil society organizations working with women, people with disabilities, refugees, LGBTQ people, youth and people living in the socio-economic fringes of society, to jointly advocate for meaningful civic and political participation. Similarly, IFES supports Libya’s first and only Electoral Access Working Group, composed of members of disabled people’s organizations and activists to raise awareness about the rights of Libyans with disabilities. Finally, working with leaders from the Deaf community, IFES developed lexicons of electoral and political terms in Arabic sign language to improve access to information for Deaf voters, which have been introduced in Libya, Tunisia and Morocco.

With the trend of democratic backsliding accelerating across the region, IFES continues to work with state institutions, civil society and election management bodies to strengthen democratic resilience to these challenges and ensure that citizens have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in their country’s future. In the MENA region, IFES has received funding from the United States Agency for International Development, the United States Department of State, the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the German Federal Foreign Office, the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and Global Affairs Canada. 

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