When I was interviewed by Naif Abu-Saida on Orbit few months ago, I asked: “Do we, in Saudi Arabia, really have a civil society? There is no system or law regulating the functioning of civil society organizations.” Naif disagreed with me and insisted that there are such organizations and it was simply ignorant on my part to deny their existence.
The interview was mainly about blogging, but civil society got a mention during a call by fellow blogger Hadeel al-Hodhaif who touched on the issue. Since then, I’ve been meaning to write about this but never got around to do it and I finally decided to give it shot, so here it goes.
What Naif meant when he was talking about civil society organizations is mainly charities and philanthropic bodies. It is true that charities are usually included when citing examples for civil society institutions, but most literature on the subject is focused on the political element of these organizations, which aims to “facilitates better awareness and a more informed citizenry, who make better voting choices, participate in politics, and hold government more accountable as a result.”
Needless to say, such political element is clearly absent in this part of the world. Of course this has much to do with the fact that we don’t live in a democratic system because the civil society concept is closely linked to democracy and representation. As far as I know, Shoura Council have been discussing a new law for regulating civil society organizations that is expected to be voted on soon.
Until we find out what our esteemed Shoura members have been up to, my question for now is: considering our circumstances, can we here in Saudi Arabia actually call the many charities and philanthropic bodies functioning in the country civil society organizations?