Activist ban highlights ‘existential threat’ to Egypt’s civil society



An Egyptian activist was prevented from flying to Beirut for a women’s rights conference on Monday after passport control officials told her she was banned from traveling, Reuters reports:

Mozn Hassan, director of a group called Nazra for Feminist Studies, was barred from flying due to her alleged involvement in a high-profile case in which authorities have accused non-governmental organizations of receiving foreign funds with the aim of sowing chaos, Nazra said in a statement.

Nazra said it condemned the action against her and the inclusion of the organization in the NGO funding case. The case has been revived in recent months, with many activists being summoned for questioning, banned from travel or having their assets frozen.

In March, Nazra saw three employees questioned, including Hassan. “They want to stigmatize us,” she told Reuters at the time. “They want to say publicly that those people (Nazra) are spies, that those people are not patriots.”

Nazra was one of 11 international non-governmental organizations to warn last week of an existential threat to Egypt’s civil society:

The groups urged the Egyptian authorities to end attacks against human rights defenders and uphold their obligations under international and Egyptian law, and to respect the right of human rights defenders, individually and in association with others, to work for the protection and realization of human rights.

The international community must also demand an end to these grave violations against human rights defenders, both individuals and independent human rights groups, in Egypt, and ensure that their human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected. Individuals and independent human rights groups must be able to work freely, without intimidation, harassment or hindrance from the authorities simply for doing their human rights work.

“For years we have had shrinking space for civil society in Egypt but the space is now closing completely,” said Hassan, director of Nazra, one of several prominent Egyptian civil society organizations whose funding and registration are being investigated by the authorities in Case 173 of 2011, referred to by the media as the “foreign funding case.”

As authoritarian regimes crack down on local human rights organizations (LHROs), these restrictions have led to calls for more variety and sustainability in financing strategies for the global South, notes Hussein Baoumi, the Programs Director at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

One of the strategies that has gained the most traction is a shift toward local funding, as outlined by Jenny Hodgson. In addition, Annika Poppe and Jonas Wolff have argued that we must take governments seriously in their normative arguments against foreign funding and thus, foreign interference, he writes for Open Democracy.

  • First, several authoritarian regimes have delegalized the very existence of LHROs by controlling the approval process for organizations and removing their previously authorized status. This forces many organizations to seek more “creative” registration methods in more lenient dictatorships, or forego registration in the most severe cases, while maintaining their operations. Sometimes local organizations go so far as to locate their headquarters outside the country, while maintaining local operations through activists on the ground. Local funding under these circumstances is illegal, and could lead to charges of terrorism or extralegal violence. Examples of this are cases likeRwanda and much of the Gulf, where only pro-government NGOs are allowed and activists are under constant threat of arrest and violence.
  • Second, in several authoritarian regimes, rule of law is virtually non-existent and the judiciaryacts as an arm of the dictatorship to penalize human rights defenders and any local supporters. The proliferation of counter-terrorism laws make LHROs and human rights workers more susceptible to charges of terrorism and, by extension, local donors. This not only creates a barrier of fear for potential donors, but also a moral responsibility on local human rights groups to avoid endangering their constituents…..
  • Third, in certain authoritarian countries such asRwanda and Algeria, corruption is rampant, and both businesses and businessmen are discouraged and intimidated from supporting LHROs. Organizations are labelled as enemies of the government, and businesses either voluntarily avoid links with them due to a mutually beneficial relationship between them and the dictatorship, or out of fear of repercussions against their economic interests.

“Local human rights defenders who choose to risk their lives for their rights are best suited to judge their own contexts and determine which tool is best suited to get the job done,” Baoumi adds. ‘Any normative claim to the superiority of local funding needs to address the viability and utility of local funding in each specific context.” RTWT

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