MIDDLE EAST: NGOs Concerned Over Rights Violations in Egypt

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By Jutta Wolf

BERLIN (IDN) - Violations of rights in Egypt are becoming increasingly evident in the aftermath of the country’s Ministry of Social Solidarity proposing a new law, which would constitute a dangerous escalation in the framework of systematic targeting of civil society activists and increasing restrictions imposed upon them, according to the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND).

The Egyptian ministry in charge of regulating civil society organization proposed a new draft law in June 26, 2014, causing shockwaves among civil society organizations (CSOs) in the country. For six months, they had carried out negotiations with former Social Solidarity Minister Dr. Ahmed el-Boraei, which led to a proposed law to be presented to forthcoming parliament soon after the elections.



However, says the Beirut-based network, the law proposed by the current minister will erase all the previous efforts and contains signs of an effort to undermine and quell civil society in Egypt. Through the law, the ministry aims to "nationalize around 40,000 civil society groups and make them quasi-governmental adjuncts", which "closely [resembles] the proposed law put up for discussion during the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule".

“The proposed law constitutes a plain and flagrant violation of the new Egyptian constitution and the country's human rights obligations, especially Article 22 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” warns ANND.

Yet the Ministry was not satisfied with merely proposing the draft; three weeks later, it sent out a warning in the form of an announcement in state owned Al-Ahram newspaper on July 18, 2014. The caution addressed what it dubbed as "entities" performing civil society work, which have not been registered in accordance with Law 84 of 2002, alerting them of the need to register in 45 days or they will be dissolved.

This was followed by a memorandum sent by 23 rights organizations to the Egyptian Prime Minister on July 24, declaring their rejection of the draft law and of other escalatory measures.

The memo indicated that the warning constitutes a "blatant attack on other long-established legal systems regulating companies in the fields of law and other activities related to development, academia, and culture".

Several organizations in Egypt prefer to register under the civil company law or as law offices to avoid interference in their affairs and strict control by the government. “Based on its faith in the critical role of civil society and community organizing in the quest towards reforms and providing a rights-based and humane character on public life,” ANND strongly condemns the draconian practices of the Ministry of Social Solidarity in Egypt.

ANND also expresses its deep concern for the increasing antagonism against the work of civil society organizations in the various fields of intervention, in the assault on the freedom of expression – targeting journalists in particular, the right to peaceful assembly and protest – in the adoption of the Law on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations of 2013, which imposes severe restrictions, and, through the onslaught against civic associations and the enforcement of tight controls, especially in light of the adoption of the system of registration, instead of notification [of association].

ANND lends it voice to the signatories on the memo and all civil society and community-based organizations in Egypt, due to the negative and destructive repercussions of such measures on Egyptian civil society, calling on the Egyptian prime minister to abide by his commitments to human rights organizations, through holding a wide meeting to discuss these measures.

Remarkably, adds ANND, during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights obligations in 2010, Egypt had pledged to improve the environment for the work of non-governmental organizations. The Ministry's initiative to adopt the law is inconsistent with this commitment, in all respects, and occurs two months prior to Egypt's human rights revision during UPR second cycle, where it will be accountable to the Human Rights Council on the extent of its honoring such commitments.

In a memo to the prime minister, ANND has called for retracting the draft law on civil society organizations, which was recently put forward by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and revoking unequivocally the notice issued by the Ministry of Social Solidarity in Al Ahram newspaper.

ANND also wants the Ministry of Social Solidarity to initiate deliberations with civil society organizations, based on the positions reached in the dialogue with former Minister of Social Solidarity, Ahmed Boraei. It also calls for a legal framework that is more consistent with international standards and the Egyptian constitution (ratified by general referendum at the beginning of the year), and to present it to the new parliament once elections are held. [IDN-InDepthNews – September 15, 2014]

Image: ANND Logo

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