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24 October 2007

Non-Governmental Organizations

NGOs

By Hoda Nassef

On 7 May 2006, in the Gomhuriya Egyptian daily newspaper, the editor-in-chief ridiculed the NGOs in Egypt, claiming that NGOs were comprised of ‘hanems’ (female socialites) who get together to gossip and chat about fashion and diets! Maybe he did not realize that men are also members of NGOs! He also speculated and asked, “Where do they get their money to finance their NGOS?” Nobody asked him where he got his money to finance his newly furnished office into a palace, despite the well-known pending debt of over L.E. 500 million, nor why did he move from his old house to an elite district in Cairo, let alone how he suddenly got the money to do so! He should be aware also that the First Lady is on top of the echelon of NGOs, and should reflect and think, before he writes!

About three years ago, there had been attempted clampdowns on NGOs in Egypt, although the Non-Governmental Organizations have existed discreetly in Egypt for nearly half a century! Furthermore, NGOs have been a basic source of help to the welfare of Egyptians, mainly giving sustenance to the impoverished majority, in health, education, environment, preservation of ‘protected parks’, and numerous various fields, as well as thousands of jobs within these organizations, without adding a dent to the country’s economy in any way. For his information, these NGOs are financed by individuals, or well established ‘groups”. Funds are donated, not only from the USA, but also from Europe, Asia, Arab countries, and wealthy Egyptians. The volunteer workers are from all religious affiliations. Law # 153 /1999 has been finally approved of, which will ease the restrictions attempted, as well as safeguard the NGOs’ rights, within an acceptable democratic and legal broad guideline. (Details could be obtained from the Ministry of Social Affairs.)

WHAT DOES ‘NGO’ MEAN?

The term non-governmental organization or NGO was not in general currency before the UN was formed. When 132 international NGOs decided to co-operate with each other in 1910, they did so under the label: The Union of International Associations. The League of Nations officially referred to its "liaison with private organizations", while many of these bodies at that time called themselves international institutes, international unions or simply international organizations. The first draft of the UN Charter did not make any mention of maintaining co-operation with private bodies. A variety of groups, mainly but not solely from the USA, rectified this at the San Francisco conference, which established the UN in 1945. Not only did they succeed in introducing a provision for strengthening and formalizing the relations with private organizations previously maintained by the League, they also greatly enhanced the UN's role in economic and social issues and upgraded the status of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to a principal active part of the UN.

Many diverse types of bodies are now described as being NGOs. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental features. Clearly an NGO must be independent from the direct control of any government. In addition, there are three other generally accepted characteristics that exclude particular types of bodies from consideration:


1) An NGO will not be a member of a political party;
2) It will be non-profit-making;
3) It will not be a criminal group, in particular it will be non-violent.


However, many NGOs generate income from commercial activities, notably consultancy contracts or sales of publications, while a small number of NGOs may be associated with political protests. Thus, an NGO is defined as an independent voluntary association of people acting together on a continuous basis, for some common cause to benefit their society, rather than achieving government office, making money or participating in illegal activities.

HOW DID IT START?

The term, "non-governmental organization" or NGO, came into currency in 1945 because of the need for the UN to differentiate in its Charter between participation rights for inter-governmental specialized agencies and those for international private organizations. At the UN, virtually all types of private bodies can be recognized as NGOs, by being non-profit-making, independent from government control, not seeking to challenge their governments, and abide by the country’s law.

UNDER GOVERNMENT CONTROL?

NGOs often find it very difficult to act independently and they may not receive acknowledgment from their governments, even when they are acting independently. Beyond this unusual situation, there is a widespread prejudice that government funding leads to government control. In the field of ‘human rights’, it would damage an NGO for such a perception to arise. For example, ‘Amnesty International’ has strict rules that it will not accept direct government funding for normal activities. On the other hand, NGOs need substantial resources, to run their operational programs in development and humanitarian relief, so most of them readily accept official funds. While these NGOs would like the security of a guaranteed budget for their administrative overheads, governments generally only want to support field costs for projects.

VOLUNTEERS, OR BUSINESSMEN?

· The United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV)

The United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) is the UN organization that supports human development globally by promoting volunteerism and by mobilizing volunteers. It is administered by UNDP and operates amidst growing recognition that volunteerism makes important contributions, economically and socially, into more cohesive societies by building trust and reciprocity among citizens. In 2001 some 5,000 UN Volunteers from more than 150 different nationalities (three-quarters from developing countries) actively supported the programmes of the United Nations itself and almost all UN funds, programs and specialized agencies in 140 countries worldwide. (UNV Annual Report 2001)

· Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO)

USAID recognizes the increasingly important role of PVOs and NGOs in Egypt's development. There is an estimated 14,000 such organizations registered to work in different sectors of development. However, only around 3,000 are actively playing a role in developing and representing their communities. Most Egyptian PVOs / NGOs are not meeting the needs of their communities due to lack of resources. Some are playing a limited role as providers of social welfare services, which are heavily subsidized. Overall, few PVOs / NGOs in Egypt are effectively engaged in making contributions to Egypt's development, and USAID-sponsored grants have directly or indirectly benefited approximately over 500,000, and it has enhanced the livelihood of women and poor families through support for cottage industries, pollution prevention, solid waste management, and micro-credit programs for rural women, and women's health initiatives.

· The National Council of Negro Women (NCNW)

NCNW has assisted 49 Egyptian PVOs with training and technical assistance. Fifty-six grants totaling $14.5 million have been awarded to 19 Egyptian PVOs and 14 U.S. PVOs. Some examples are: CARITAS - (strengthening the role of women and community associates in developing new rural communities while focusing on the protection and preservation of the environment); The Near East Foundation - (enhancing livelihood through community development initiatives in low-income Cairo neighbourhoods) - The Egyptian General Junior Medical Doctors Association - (working in clinical waste management to prevent threat to public health) and, Save the Children Federation - (strengthening Egyptian NGO institutions for local development in Upper Egypt. Also providing scholarships to girls in rural areas to primary school).

NOT ONLY AMERICA!

· Danish Cooperation with NGOs

Danish assistance to NGOs in Egypt has developed steadily over the last few years. The strategy is to provide assistance to NGOs in Danish priority areas not supported through bilateral cooperation with the Government. These areas are ‘human rights’; women in development countries; community development and directly empowering the poor. Almost all NGO projects are funded through the Embassy's local grant authority. At the moment 13 -14 NGOs, of which 10 are Egyptian, are supported. Joint Danish-Dutch-Swedish assistance to a project in support of women NGOs preparing for the 1995 Women's Conference in Beijing reached a wide range of Egyptian NGOs working with WID and gender issues.

FUND RAISING

After registration, fund-raising is perhaps the most burning issue for NGOs throughout the world. A strong, independent, and vibrant civic sector will not emerge in the long run if NGOs continue to rely upon foreign funding or their own governments. One extremely important source of funding for NGOs in many countries is profits from economic activities. What is needed in addition, however, community-based funding.

Another way in which businesses and NGOs can cooperate is through "sponsorship." If a business is supporting an NGO (e.g., a soccer team) basically to obtain recognition in the community (e.g., "The African Football Cup"), it is appropriate to categorize the activity as advertising rather than a contribution to charity. In Egypt, an NGO cannot solicit contributions without a license, but an NGO can only receive two licenses per year, and each expires after three months. Accordingly, an NGO can only raise funds 6 months out of the year. There must be a balance, of course, between the need to protect the public and the creation of needless or expensive licensing or other bureaucratic burdens. For example, an NGO in South Africa must not only have a license to solicit contributions, it must also publish a plan of solicitation in a national newspaper, which is quite expensive. (From: International Center for Not-For-Profit Law – 2000)

ISLAMIC NGOs

· The Muslim Council of Britain

“The 2015 target to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty is ambitious. But for a fifth of the world's population who live on the margins of existence, our ambition is their basic human right. This not just an ambition, it is our collective duty. For Muslims, combating world poverty acquires an added religious and often personal dimension.” (From: Yousuf Bhailok. DFID; London)

CHRISTIAN NGOs

The resurfacing of a significant "third sector" between the government bureaucracy and private companies represents some redistribution of wealth, investment and services. Along with other elements of civil society that operate through the press, educational institutions, legal practice, or religious institutions, NGOs have helped call attention to important issues such as human rights abuses, family violence, environmental issues, etc. (From: Making Sense of NGOs; Sheila Carapico)

NGOs & DEVELOPMENT IN THE ARAB WORLD

NGOs are often important partners with governments in the provision of needed goods and services. In rich and poor countries around the world, NGOs often work in close partnership with local and national governments. For many NGOs this means that governments are the most important source of support and funding. But it is a truly two-way street. NGOs provide indispensable information to governments and are often the most fruitful source of innovative suggestions for improving social programs.

CONCLUSION

It should also be noted that relations between governments and NGOs are often adversarial or competitive. Some NGOs tend to point out the shortcomings of governments and to advocate for changes in policy. Many governments dislike such criticisms and find various ways, including repressive laws, to silence NGOs or shut them down. Such tactics are shortsighted. It is in the long term interest of governments everywhere to support their local NGOs and work together, without one controlling the other, as long as the government believes that its goal is to more fully and adequately meet the real needs of the people rather than merely to perpetuate its power.

Finally, ‘charity begins at home’ as they say, or should begin at home, so please enough of the 5-star beach resort conferences, and let’s get into concrete and realistic action to help the citizens.


H.N.

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