Since September 11 and the war on terrorism, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the Arab world have acquired a special presence and weight, requiring critical analysis. The increase in NGOs just in the past few years—from an estimated 175,000 in 1995 to about 225,000 in 2003—has raised a number of issues and concerns among intellectuals and social activists alike. This is particularly true with regard to women's NGOs. Some of the issues raised relate to the rationale behind the mushrooming of this phenomenon, that is, whether it is a conscious product of local or national need or the result of external, more specifically, capitalist imperialist interest and pressures in the region, hence serving foreign agendas. At the macro level, questions are raised concerning the role of NGOs vis-à-vis the project of nation and state building, that is, whether this phenomenon plays a positive constructive or negative restrictive role in the nation-building project. In this context some authors perceive NGOs as a socially divisive force leading to the segmentation of the national movement, obliteration of the class struggle, and fragmentation of the social fabric, while others welcome this phenomenon and deem it an important contribution to national development and civil society and a tool for promoting citizenship rights. At a more local micro level of analysis, some concerns are raised regarding the function of the NGO, for example, as a project-driven organization with a limited, transitory role and hence with short-term goals and aims. Important criticisms raised at this level concern the social-cultural domain, where NGOs are seen as a tool of “cultural co-optation,” a source of competition and social division vying for the same source of funding. Finally, the internal structure of NGOs, namely, the all-encompassing role of the “director,” the lack of a grassroots base, and the absence of accessibility to ordinary people, constitutes another concern for some activists and academics alike. These are some of the ideas explored in this article.

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