Civil society calls upon President Sisi to reject restrictive NGO law in Egypt

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As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, the NGO law ratified by Parliament on the 29th of November seeks to eliminate independent civil society and close civic space in Egypt. On 30th November, a copy of the highly controversial bill was passed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to sign into law. Both domestic and international civic groups have called upon President Sisi not to sign the bill because of its drastic restrictions on independent dissent.

As mounting pressure grew on President Sisi, on 23rd November, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Assembly, Maina Kiai openly called upon the government to reject the bill. In a statement, Kiai said: 

'This bill proposes perhaps the worst restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Egypt since the 2011 uprisings...It aims to destroy Egypt’s foundation for peaceful, civic engagement at its very roots. If it becomes law, it would devastate civil society not only in the short term, but possibly for generations to come.'

Mohamed Zaree, from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) previously stated that new law not only targets human rights organisations, but all independent civil society. For him, the law indicates that the state is at war with civil society. As part of the civil society fightback, 60 domestic and international organisations have signed on to a letter condemning the proposals. 

The affects of the draconian law are being felt even before its enactment by thepPresident. Prominent Egyptian actor Mohamed Sobhy, founder and head of Ma’an (Together) which works on the development of informal areas, revealed that he is now in the process of dismantling his organisation after the passing of the law by parliament. In a phone interview on Al-Mehwar TV, Sobhy said there was no good reason for him to continue in his role and drew attention to the fact that the legislation seeks to co-opt and regulate independent civil society into irrelevance. 

While civil society groups have vocalised their opposition to the new law, opposition politicians have also joined the growing chorus of resistance. In a recent interview with local media outlet, Mada Masr, a member of the opposition 25-30 Coalition Haitham al-Hariry mentioned that the controversial law did not have an easy passage through parliament. He stated:

'The State Council had reservations concerning 23 out of 89 articles, almost a third of the new law. This is an indication the drafting process was too hasty.'

Parliamentarians have also questioned the amount of time given to consult the draft before voting on it; leading many to question the integrity of the bill's passage through parliament.

Meanwhile, restrictions on freedom of movement and access to resources continue to restrict civil society groups. On 17th November, Egyptian authorities banned prominent activist Azza Soliman from travelling to Jordan from Cairo International airport to participate in a training on human rights. Ms. Soliman is the third human rights defender to be banned from travelling over the past month. In addition to the travel ban, Ms. Soliman's personal and organisational bank accounts were also frozen by Egyptian authorities. The continued judicial harassment of Azza Soliman has come to symbolise the plight faced by those advocating human rights in Egypt, and especially women human rights defenders.