The Open Society Foundations Arab Regional Office was established in 2006 to support local civil society in its efforts to protect human rights and build vibrant and tolerant societies. Based in Amman, Jordan, the office supports a diverse group of civil society organizations, research centers, universities, and media organizations across the Arab world in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, and Yemen.
The office operates within six distinct programmatic areas which provide financial and technical support to individuals and organizations working to improve government accountability, transparency, rule of law, and human rights, as well as to those working to empower women and marginalized communities such as migrants and refugees and foster independent media and the open exchange of information. The six programmatic areas are:
- Rights & Governance
- Media & Information
- Women's Rights
- Knowledge & Education
- Arts & Culture
- Arab Transitions
Recently supported projects and initiatives include providing access to legal aid for migrants and indigent communities in Jordan and Lebanon; support for community radio in Iraq and Jordan; investigative journalism training for reporters in Bahrain and Yemen; strengthening political participation of women in Egypt and Tunisia; monitoring human rights violations by Israeli and Palestinian authorities; and challenging discrimination policies against the Palestinian Citizens of Israel. The office has also supported the establishment the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture to support music, theater, cinema, visual arts, and literature.
The Arab Regional Office aims to orient its support to civil society according to the priorities identified and pursued by local organizations and thought leaders. It provides support to grantees within a framework of transparency, accountability, and noninterference in the programming of the organizations to ensure those on the ground determine the needs and priorities of their constituencies and maintain ownership over their work. Organizational good governance, capacity to undertake programs, and relevance and accountability to constituencies, are the only criteria that guide our decisions to provide support.
The office works in consultation with an advisory board composed of leading regional experts and activists, as well as with various offices and programs that are part of the Open Society Foundations.
A number of other Open Society foundations and initiatives tackle issues that, although not part of the Arab Regional Offices focus, have a wider relevance to the Arab region and reflect the office’s focus on support for marginalized and disenfranchised communities and minorities including migrants and refugees.
Following the events of September 11, in the United States, various initiatives and programs of the Open Society Foundations have fought to address abuses relating to profiling and other discriminatory practices towards Muslim, Arab, and other minority individuals and communities. A key component of this work also supports the capacity building of these groups in an effort to eliminate such practices.
Since 2000, the Foundations have been conducting research and advocacy on the situation of Muslim communities in Western Europe. In 2007, the At Home in Europe program was begun which examines public policies on the social inclusion of minority and marginalized communities in cities across Europe.
After France passed legislation banning the face veil in April 2011, the Foundations released a report documenting the actual experiences and testimonies of women in France who wear the full-face veil (Neqab) in an attempt to debunk the myths and misrepresentations of these women prevalent in the media.
The Foundations documented stop-and-search practices in the Paris metro system in 2009—which showed that Arabs are 7.6 times likely to be stopped than whites.