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Why the Arab awakening depends on social entrepreneurs

Iman Bibars's picture

This blog was originally posted in The Guardian, for the full blog, click here.

Social enterprise is naturally democratic and plays an important role in finding solutions to the social upheaval of the Middle EastA protester waves the national flagin front of the burnt out National Democratic Party building of former President Mubarak's ruling party in November 2011. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP
A protester waves the national flagin front of the burnt out National Democratic Party building of former President Mubarak's ruling party in November 2011. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP

For two years, I have resisted use of the term Arab Spring to describe the events that have been unfolding in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa. It is an unrealistic label to use, its application verging on naïve, even lazy, in this situation. Spring is a time where something with strong roots, carefully nurtured, flourishes and grows. We are not there yet; I hope that we may be soon.

What the world witnessed in the initial 18 days of uprising and subsequent political and social developments was a rediscovery of our ability to effect change, a realisation that mass protest is one way to make our collective voice heard.

But just as the myriad causes of that uprising had been entrenched in our society since long before the 25 January 2011, so have we seen in the two years that followed that they will not be solved by demonstrations alone. The voices of Egyptian citizens need to be heard everywhere: in courtrooms, in newspapers, in schools, in religious buildings, in government institutions.

We need processes and initiatives that offer real solutions to our social problems and we need to take responsibility for implementing them ourselves. We are in the middle of what I call the Arab Awakening.

I have been an activist and a campaigner for the rights of the marginalised and oppressed for more than 30 years. When I launched Ashoka Arab World in 2003, it was with a sense of conviction that the region, Egypt especially, was full of dynamic people committed to changing the underlying structural issues that perpetuate endemic problems. I knew these social entrepreneurs were out there; now our regional office in Cairo supports 69 of them in seven countries – and the number is growing.

For the remainder of the blog, click here.