Egyptian authorities continue their brazen curtailment of civic space
As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the closure of the Al-Nadeem Centre in February 2017 is an example of the government's pressure on independent civil society and human rights groups in Egypt. On the 18th March 2017, however, Egypt’s State Council Commissioner Authority (SCCA) recommended revoking the administrative order that led to the Centre's closure. The SCCA's report confirmed suspicions that the organisation was not given any prior notice or time to defend its position. The report also reaffirmed that the organisation had not been inspected and the alleged violations were not significant enough to warrant its closure. As a result of the report's findings, the Centre was allowed to reopen in March 2017.
The Centre works with victims of violence and torture and has been repeatedly harassed by Egyptian authorities. Its co-founder, Seif al-Dawla, has been placed on a travel ban list and the organisation's bank account was frozen at the end of 2016. In a recent interview, al-Dawla commented on the pressure against the Al-Nadeem Centre, declaring:
“This is a step within a larger context, where there is a crackdown on NGOs".
In a separate incident, civil society groups have been at the forefront of a campaign to release activists affiliated with the Belady Foundation. Aya Hijazi, her husband, Mohammed Hassanein, and their six colleagues have been held by Egyptian authorities since 1st May 2014. The Belady Foundation, a civic organisation helping street children, was initially targeted and accused of allegedly running an unlicensed organisation, inciting street children to join pro-Muslim Brotherhood protests, and sexually assaulting minors. The defendants are yet to be tried for their alleged crimes. On 22nd March 2016, three political parties and 21 civil society groups issued a statement as a coalition, calling for the release of the eight activists prior to the court’s scheduled verdict. In a statement, the coalition commented on the prolonged use of provisional detention, stating:
“The defendants’ continued imprisonment on the basis of fabricated charges is indicative of the government’s continued crackdown on youth initiatives as well its suppression of volunteerism, civic activism, and freedom of association...[The] state’s repressive policies are a clear threat to the future of Egypt”.
A recent report by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression details the Egyptian government's efforts to curtail freedom of expression. The report documents that between 2013 and 2016, Egyptian authorities took punitive action against 2,297 student activists on university campuses throughout the country. The Association also monitored cases of persecution, torture, arrests, expulsions from university and even murders of pro-democracy student activists.
The report comes at a time when many fear that Egyptian authorities are becoming more brazen in curtailing freedom of expression. On 25th March 2016, a Cairo court upheld the conviction of three media activists connected to the Press Syndicate. The three journalists, Yahya Qallash, the Press Syndicate’s former President; Khaled El-Balshy, former head of its freedoms committee; and Gamal Abdel Raheem, former secretary-general were convicted of harbouring two journalists wanted by authorities. The journalists face a suspended one-year prison sentence. Many fear that the persecution of the Press Syndicate's former leadership was orchestrated by the authorities to coincide with the election of a new president at the Syndicate, who is confirmed as being pro-government. Attempts by authorities to co-opt the Press Syndicate's leadership are emblematic of the shrinking space for critical dissent in Egypt.