Draft law presents serious threat to civil society in Egypt

Association

On 8th September, the cabinet approved new draft NGO law, which regulates the work and funding of local and international civil society organisations. Independent Egyptian newspaper Mada Masr pointed to several criticisms of the draft, and noted that several articles will have a negative impact on civic space in Egypt by legalising the state's unjustified interference in the work of civic organisations. The proposed legislation strengthens the government's ability to arbitrarily cancel a CSO's registration, under the guise of "preventing illegal activity". While CSOs can appeal the decision upon amending their documentation, many feel that the proposed legislation could be used to dilute the advocacy of groups that are critical of the authorities. 

The draft law also makes room for the authorities to approve or disapprove of an NGO’s activities and for the state's representatives to enter NGO headquarters “to offer technical support, observe activities, look over documents and examine administrative and financial work.” The contents of the draft law constitute an unnecessary infringement of associational rights and have drawn international condemnation. In a recent press statement, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly Maina Kiai said: 

“The draft law also limits NGO work to ‘development and social objectives’, and imposes a high level of minimum capital required to set up an NGO. Other new elements introduced by the draft law include the establishment of a specific tax for foreign funding, the banning of activists who have received a prison sentence for forming their own NGOs, and requiring the NGOs to conduct work that meet social needs.”

The draft law seeks to closely monitor the work of international CSOs and Egyptian civic groups which receive foreign funding. A new executive committee, including representatives from General Intelligence Services and government ministries, will now preside over the approval of foreign funding for local CSOs. This executive committee will also have the authority to monitor foreign organisations operating in Egypt. Many fear that the government also intends to stifle criticism by starving critical CSOs of financial resources.  

On 20th October, the Egyptian Commission for Freedom and Rights (ECFR), received a mysterious visit by four officials who demanded to inspect the organisation, while refusing to disclose their identities or provide any documentation. Many suspect they were from the General Authority for Investment (GAFI), a body affiliated to the Ministry of Investment. The ECFR is an NGO which documents violations of human rights and has been critical of the authorities on numerous occassions, fueling suspicions that this visit was part of a broader campaign to silence the group. 

As previously covered in the CIVICUS Monitor, the Cairo Felony Court froze the assets of several prominent Egyptian human rights defenders. Over the past five years the authorities have pursued this case in order to intimidate Egyptian civil society into compliance with their demands. As the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information has noted, the ongoing case illustrates the Egyptian authorities' determination to purge any independently critical voices from the country. 

Expression

Freedom of expression continues to be severely restricted in Egypt. Between the 17th and 24th October, the Journalists Against Torture Observatory (JATO), a local civic group, documented 10 cases of violations against journalists during their work. These violations included three cases of arrest, two cases of brief interrogation during the coverage of an event, and five cases of banning journalists from covering an incident. The frequency of these individual violations forms part of a general decline in respect for freedom of expression in Egypt. A recent report by the Civil Society Organisations Coalition, comprised of 25 CSOs documented a fundamental failure of Egyptian authorities to implement UN Human Rights Universal Periodic Review recommendations on free expression. The group also highlighted the increasing use of prison terms in political and religious cases against intellectuals and politicians. 

On 3rd October, outspoken laywer Negad al-Borai was detained at Cairo airport for for two hours. Many have viewed Mr. al-Borai's arbitrary detention as the latest instance in a campaign of ongoing harassment targetted at human rights defenders who speak out against the authorities. 


Peaceful Assembly

In the early hours of 19th October, security forces broke up a sit-in staged by a number of Port Said residents in front of the ferryboats anchorage. Police arrested 19 members of the group, which was protesting against social housing conditions. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) has drawn attention to the heavy-handed use of force by security forces against local people simply mobilising for better social conditions.