Egypt has never been a welcoming place for civil society groups, but the past several years have seen an unrelenting crackdown on non-governmental organizations, note Nancy Okail and Allison L. McManus of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP). It began with the infamous December 2011 raids on foreign democracy-building organizations and has endured through successive regimes. And yesterday, Egypt once again upped the ante, they write for the Lawfare blog:
New legislation to regulate NGOs was approved in parliament after being railroaded through the legislative process over the weekend; the draft was discussed in committee on Sunday, approved in principle on Monday, and voted on today. The law has raised an outcry across Egypt’s NGO community for its exceedingly restrictive language, severe legal penalties that would allow prison sentences of up to five years, and the sudden and undemocratic process that brought it before parliament. The new law would further curtail civil society at a moment of economic crisis, when a vibrant NGO landscape is most critical.
“This law is unprecedented in its repression and is the state’s way of declaring war on human rights organizations,” Mohamed Zaree (right), Egypt program manager at the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, told Reuters:
Rights groups have repeatedly criticized leaked drafts of the government’s bill but say parliament’s version is much more stringent, including penalties of up to five years in jail and fines of up to 1 million Egyptian pounds ($65,573).
“The government bill is liberal compared to this bill,” said Zaree. “It is an insult to the constitution.”
Over two dozen Egyptian political parties and civil society groups signed a petition opposing the bill “because it effectively eradicates civil society and defers administration of it to the government and security apparatus.” “Both the laws of 1964 and 2002, which suppressed rights, look better than the new law,” Magda Adly, director of El-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Violence and Torture Victims, told Ahram Online.
“The new law renders the NGOs an appendix of the government; it transforms NGOs into governmental organizations since it forces non-governmental organizations to work according to the government agenda,” Adly added.
Last month Maina Kiai (left), UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, warned that the Egyptian government “seems to be systematically attacking civil society in an effort to silence its voice.”
“The assault on Egypt’s civil society has endured for years, but recent developments have accelerated the pace,” Okail and McManus suggest. “At a critical moment for millions of Egyptian citizens, and at a time when the whole world is eagerly watching Egypt’s economic progress, the international community cannot afford to allow civil society to erode when Egypt needs it most.”