By Nourhan Fahmy
The current legal situation in Egypt for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is difficult, according to Basma Zahran, a lawyer with the El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
“Clear and targeted measures arebeing taken against human rights organisations and those working for them,” Zahran said. “This started a while ago, even before the government’s ultimatum on 10 November.”
The 10 November deadline was imposed by the Ministry of Social Solidarity for the registration of all NGOs working in Egypt. Law 84/2002 makes NGOs vulnerable to registration denial and harsher penalties for non-compliance with funding and activity regulations.
Despite the time that has since elapsed, the government has yet to take action on the matter, creating a sense of uncertainty about the future for many of Egypt’s NGOs.
“We haven’t been contacted by anyone from the government following the deadline, and since then NGOs have been holding meetings to discuss what is to be done next,” stated Sara El-Masry, a researcher at The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE). Although an NGO in practice, AFTE is, in fact, registered as a law firm.
“We are working almost normally, following our daily schedule,” explained Zahran.”Researchers are doing their work and lawyers are attending trials. We will do so until the government takes any action against us.”
“As a human rights organisation registered under the investment law, we, at El-Nadeem Center, are concerned about the legal situation of the organisation and those working in it especially since the government has expressed before its rejection of organisations assuming different legal forms,” Zahran added.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity stated that only 17 of an estimated 300 organisations have registered during the given period, according to state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram. Among the organisations that did not go through the required procedure is the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and AFTE.
The government had extended the registration deadline in September to 10 November to allow more time for NGOs to settle their legal status. While some NGOs continued to express their opposition to the law, citing its repressive nature and its restrictive implications on their operation and funding.
The decision targeted organisations that are currently not registered under law 84 and thus are not subject to the administrative control of the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali said on 11 November that decisions regarding registration would be taken on a case by case basis, depending on the nature of the group’s activity and its registration status. This would be followed by approaching those organisations so they would become registered under the current NGO law.
In an 18 November press release, a group of 10 NGOs then called on the Ministry of Social Solidarity “to engage in a serious, transparent dialogue on the role of civil society organisations in Egypt and the government’s fears and apprehensions about these groups”. The signatories expressed their willingness to initiate a dialogue with the government, in an effort to resolve “the crisis of freedom of association in Egypt”.
Transitional Justice Minister Ibraheem El-Henaidi stated on 22 November that a new cooperation mechanism with civil society organisations is to be established soon. This would launch a dialogue between the government and civil society.
The final draft for a new civil association law awaits the formation of the new parliament, which is expected to place following elections, for which a firm date has yet to be set.
El-Masry said: “The confrontation between the government and civil society is inevitable. It is more likely to take place after the parliament is elected and a new law comes into force. But for now, NGOs are taking one of two routes; some are involved in discussions while others are waiting to observe what these discussions will lead to.”