American University
Zayed_american_0008E_12080.pdf (1.75 MB)

Hiding in Plain Sight: How Egyptian Nonprofit Organizations Adapt to Shrinking Civic Space

Download (1.75 MB)
posted on 2023-10-06, 00:52 authored by Hatem Zayed
In a restrictive civic environment like Egypt, where the state places significant constraints on civil society operations, development non-profit organizations (NPOs) struggle to pursue their objectives without facing government coercion. Placing restrictions on NPOs’ access to foreign aid is one way in which governments exert control over these organizations. As such, many NPOs, in Egypt and elsewhere, have pursued alternative funding strategies – such as social investments, social enterprises, and value-driven models, otherwise referred to as ‘hybrid models’ – to secure funding opportunities beyond foreign aid. While extant literature has focused on the potential these new models have for financial sustainability, I explore the following question: How does the funding model of development non-profit organizations (NPOs) influence how they navigate restrictive civic spaces? I compare the experiences of seven Egyptian development NPOs with varying funding models, yet similar sectoral scopes. I draw on 69 in-depth interviews with 60 participants that I conducted through immersive field research. I complemented these interviews with ethnographic observational methods, NPO document review, content analysis of Egyptian laws and policies that relate to civic space, a descriptive analysis of data on official development assistance to Egypt, and an analysis of a secondary dataset that included 95 interviews and 3 focus group discussions with 116 civil society actors in Egypt. In the context of Egypt, I find that hybrid NPOs experienced restrictive civic spaces differently and benefitted from reduced suspicion from government partners, flexibility from regulatory requirements imposed on traditional NGOs, and less rigid expectations from donors. These findings have important implications for how we understand NPO reactions to government restrictions on civic space and highlight that while structural conditions often constrain civic actors in restrictive settings in important ways, development NPOs find innovative strategies to navigate these challenges and thrive in conditions that are not hospitable to their growth.






Committee chair

Rachel S. Robinson

Committee member(s)

Adam Auerbach; Catherine Herrold; Diane Singerman

Degree discipline

International Relations

Degree grantor

American University. School of International Service

Degree level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

Ph.D. in International Relations

Local identifier


Media type



282 pages

Submission ID


Usage metrics

    Theses and Dissertations


    Ref. manager