Special Year End 2014 Feature:
Most Egyptian civil society groups have reiterated the same demands all year long. They ask for the amendment or repeal of the Protest Law; an end to military trials for civilians; investigations into cases of security forces using force against peaceful protesters; and above all the reconsideration of governmental policies towards NGOs.
Mona Hassan, Head of Nazra for Feminist Studies, stressed the importance of having a parliament to address the different demands of civil society. She asked for “freedom for civil society organisations, halting the doubts and threats imposed on rights groups, in addition to the release of peaceful protesters and the presence of a national strategy to combat violence against women”.
Human rights lawyer Mohmed Zare noted that civil society’s main demands are related to the “improvement of the work environment for rights groups, in addition to the removal of legislative threats imposed on them”.
He further stressed the importance of adopting laws that abide by international standards and the Egyptian constitution, particularly laws regulating the work of civil society.
Zare, who heads the Egypt programme at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) said his organisation was among many calling for a “transparent dialogue” with the government in order to reach a middle ground regarding law 84/2002, and to address “the apprehensions and fears” the government holds about these groups. The call followed the passing of the 10 November deadline that the Ministry of Solidarity assigned for NGOs to register under the law.
Zare’ expressed his wish for a return to the draft law proposed under former minister Al-Ahmed Boraei in 2013.While both the government and the NGOs agreed on the content of that draft, it was dropped following a cabinet reshuffle and the appointment of Ghada Wali to the post of minister of social solidarity in June 2014. Wali issued a new draft bill over the summer to regulate NGOs, calling on them to register under Mubarak-era law 84/2002.
Following the ministry’s decision, 29 NGOs responded through a joint statement announcing their rejection of the law, as it “allows the administrative authority to severely interfere with the NGOs’ affairs, objecting and cancelling their decisions, and ignoring their independence”.
NGOs called for its reversal, as the proposed bill imposes “restrictions” on rights groups operating in Egypt, and as “it violates Article 75 of the constitution”, which guarantees the freedom to form an association and acquire legitimacy upon notification, unlike the bill which recognises the association 60 days after registration.
Among the limitations of the law, NGOs are prohibited from conducting any field research or setting any opinion polls without the permission of the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS). It also allows the administrative body “to interfere in the internal matters of associations,” and grants the government the right to suspend the activity or close it down.
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Al-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) were among many others criticising the law.
Head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights Hafez Abu Saada argued that the draft law agreed upon under Al-Boraie “is the best draft law, as all parties involved agreed to it.”
Malek Adly, a lawyer at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, also said that Al-Boraie’s law was preferable to the current one, as it was discussed with NGOs, unlike the current law, for which “NGOs were not invited “.
CIHRS and other civil society organisations, including Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy (Culture Resource) and the Carter Center, have decided to leave Egypt as a result of the new regulations.
EIPR registered in December under what it called a “flawed law”. EIPR Executive Director Khaled Mansour, however, said he aimed to challenge the law “in all the possible ways until it is amended”.
Mansour’s message to the president is that civil society should “be allowed to work freely”, noting that “EIPR welcomes oversight”, however without intervention, in the sense that “we don’t want someone to restrict or control the nature of our work”.
Mansour further noted “the government should deal with us as part of the country, not as enemies”.