Over the last 20 years, the Arab region has seen a steady increase in the number of foundations and increased engagement of corporate philanthropy. It is therefore more urgent than ever to have more favourable regulation for foundations.
To this end, the Arab Foundations Forum (AFF), in cooperation with SAANED for Philanthropy Advisory and the International Center for Not-for-profit Law (ICNL), convened a one-day consultative meeting in Cairo last November. The meeting confirmed that foundations need a special law to define their role in society rather than being included within the existing law for civil society organizations in general.
What was especially interesting was that meeting participants agreed unanimously that only foundations aiming for social justice should benefit from tax exemptions. Since 2011 social justice (in Arabic Adalah Ijtima’ieh) is commonly used all over the region to describe the aspirations of the Arab Spring. This was in sharp contrast to the early years of AFF when efforts to restrict membership to social justice foundations did not receive general support and membership was therefore extended to all foundations. Meeting participants included philanthropic leaders from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
However, given the difficulty of agreeing on the meaning of social justice and in order to avoid unnecessary legal restrictions, the wording in the final version of the foundations law was changed to be applicable only to foundations whose programmes have clear social benefit.
The foundations law was adopted in AFF’s wider meeting in April 2013. It was agreed that the new law will act as a template, with the details being adapted to suit prevailing conditions in each Arab country. It was also clear that it will continue to evolve as things are changing rapidly on the ground. However, the present law will remain a key document for the near future to guide the process of creating foundations laws in the various Arab countries.