Civil society under greater threat as draconian law comes into force
On 29th May 2017, that law came into force with potentially devastating affects on both domestic and international organisations operating in Egypt. Many claim that the Egyptian authorities intend to eradicate as many independent watchdog organisations as possible. The new law in particular targets foreign civic groups through burdensome regulations and bureaucratic restrictions. And domestic organisations must now seek state permission before publishing any results from a survey or study done in Egypt. Over 46,000 organisations must comply with the new regulations within one year or face hefty fines or even prison time.
With the crackdown on independent civic groups intensifying, human rights defenders face an increased level of harassment and intimidation. In recent police raids, Egyptian authorities arrested 30 opposition activists. The recent arrest of prominent human rights lawyer and former presidential candidate, Khaled Ali, on 23rd May 2017 has raised suspicions that the authorities are using the judicial system to target dissidents. Although he was released on bail the next day, Ali's lawyers maintain that there was no legal basis for detention or a trial. Egyptian authorities questioned him over his use of “an indecent hand gesture” following a court dispute with Saudi Arabia over the sovereignty of two islands in the Red Sea, an accusation which his defence claims is baseless.
In addition, the authorities are persecuting activists for allegedly using social media to criticise the government, insult the president or disturb public peace. In response to the persecution, harassment and intimidation, a coalition of opposition political parties, public figures and human rights organisations declared:
"This is an atmosphere that seeks to inculcate and instill fear among the citizens. These practices, which act to intimidate young people, appear to be totally contradictory to the president's respect for the political parties, his support for them, his readiness to listen to different opinions and the opposition".
In another development featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, the ongoing "foreign funding" case has led to the repeated harassment of several human rights organisations. On 24th May 2017, the head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Mohamed Zaree, was released on bail after being questioned on receiving foreign funds and spending them unlawfully with the intention of harming national security and national interests. Zaree is one of many prominent civil society leaders facing accusations, travel ban restrictions and intimidation from Egyptian authorities.
A recent statement from 17 civil society organisations called on the state to immediately cease its persecution of human rights defenders and its campaign against critics of the government. The statement also reaffirmed civil society's commitment to promoting human rights, stating:
"Despite this ongoing intimidation, the organisations affirm that they will continue to fulfill their obligation towards all Egyptian citizens victimised by human rights abuses, regardless of their political, religious or ethnic affiliation, at any price".
In addition to silencing civil society and individual citizens' voices, in May 2017 the Egyptian authorities blocked public access to 21 websites, including Mada Masr, Al Jazeera, Al Sharq, Masr Al Arabia, Arabic 21, Huffington Post Arabic, Horria post, Klmty, Rassd, among many others. The government claims that the websites were "spreading lies" and "supporting terrorism".