Egypt’s NGO law cracking down on dissent, suffocating civil society


Egypt issued a new law on Monday that regulates the work of non-governmental organizations, a measure seen by rights groups as the latest sign of a growing crackdown on dissent against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Reuters reports:

  • The measure restricts NGO activity to developmental and social work and introduces jail terms of up to five years for non-compliance. It gives Egypt’s 46,000 NGOs one year to comply or face being dissolved by a court…. Under the new law, donations exceeding 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($550) must be preapproved. If no approval is granted within 60 days the request is automatically denied. Failure to inform authorities could result in jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to 1 million pounds ($55,000).
  • The law gives the government power over deciding who can establish an NGO and for what purpose. It obliges groups to stick to the “state’s development plan”, severely restricting the work they can do in areas the government does not consider a priority.
  • The law also bans domestic and foreign groups from engaging in political activities or anything that harms national security, public order, public morals or public health – a means, say rights groups, to stifle dissent.

“Cairo will no doubt be met with a lot of concern raised internationally around the passage of the law – but the Egyptian authorities have assessed that, and are moving forward, clearly,” said H.A. Hellyer, senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

The new law was “the worst in history” and would practically ban NGOs from carrying out their work, said Mohamed Zaree (left), Egypt program director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies:

“The state is operating with no strategy or vision,” said Zaree, whose organisation will be one those affected. He is already banned from travel and has been charged with “receiving funds from foreign entities to harm national security”… Following the rise in prices that followed the government’s decision to devalue the currency last year, Zaree said civil society groups should be allowed “to serve the needs of the community by offering the services that the government could not, instead of passing a law that ends their role”.

“This is a very bad day for Egypt,” said Amy Hawthorne, an Egypt expert at the Project on Middle East Democracy, who predicted that the new law would weaken Egypt by effectively criminalizing the work of many aid groups.

“We have a terrible experience of seeing what happens when authoritarian regimes crush that space between citizens and the state,” she told The New York Times. “It’s what happened under Qaddafi in Libya, and it’s what happened under Saddam Hussein in Iraq. And it never leads to stability.”

The NGO law suggests that “Egypt and other regimes like Bahrain definitely feel they have a green light … to undertake repressive actions in the name of counterterrorism,” Hawthorne added.

Rights lawyer Gamal Eid (left) slammed the text of the new bill, which the United Nations and New York-based Human Rights Watch have also criticized, AFP reports.

“The law eliminates civil society in Egypt, whether human rights or development organizations,” he said.

Successive waves of repression since his July 2013 coup put the authoritarian trajectory of al-Sisi’s government beyond doubt, wrote Carnegie Senior Fellow Amr Hamzawy:

The first wave of post-coup repression, characterized by the mass killings in the Raba‘a al-Adawiyyeh and Nahda Square protest camps in summer 2013, was being followed by a second wave of structural repression. This was carried out through undemocratic laws tailored to close off public space, instill a culture of fear among Egyptians, extinguish independent civil society organizations, and prosecute dissidents. This second wave, which continues until today, has resulted in the detention of more than 50,000 individuals for political reasons. Thousands more have been referred to military tribunals, while the unchecked security apparatus has been systematically implicated in extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and torture in detention centers.

Hamzawy recently published three papers, one titled “Egypt’s Resilient and Evolving Social Activism,” a second titled “Legislating Authoritarianism: Egypt’s New Era of Repression,” and a third, authored with Michele Dunne [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group], titled “Egypt’s Secular Political Parties: A Struggle for Identity and Independence.”

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