The ICJ today called on the Egyptian authorities to act immediately to repeal the law on civic associations.
The law was adopted by Egypt’s Parliament on 15 November 2016 and signed into law by President El-Sisi on 29 May 2017.
Until the law is repealed, the authorities should desist from enforcing it, the ICJ says.
The law effectively prohibits most Egyptian human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from registering and working in Egypt, stipulating that civic associations’ work shall take place in the fields of development and social welfare consistent with “the State’s plans and its developmental needs and priorities.”
Egyptian and international NGOs are also forbidden to advocate against any law or its implementation, as well as to carry out “political activities” or any that “harm national security, public order, public morals or public health.”
They are prohibited from conducting public surveys, research or reports without permission and approval of the results of such work must be given by the authorities prior to publication (articles 14, 87).
The law also provides for an entity to be formed by presidential decree from representatives of three security bodies, which will decide on all matters related to NGO funding, the registration and issues relating to the work of international NGOs, and cooperation between Egyptian associations and any foreign body.
“The law on civic associations, if implemented in its present form, would be tantamount to an official death certificate of independent civil society in Egypt,” said Said Benarbia, ICJ Middle East and North Africa Director.
“By signing it into law, President El-Sisi is silencing the very organizations that could act as a check on the abusive and arbitrary exercise of his power,” he added.
The adoption of this repressive law is just the latest measure in a sustained, relentless campaign by Egypt’s military and executive authorities aimed at dismantling Egyptian civil society through highly politicized judicial proceedings and arbitrary travel bans against NGOs and human rights defenders.
For instance, the foreign funding case taken against NGOs (no. 173/2011) saw leading Egyptian human rights organizations, such as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and the Hicham Mubrak Law Center (HMLC), subject to arbitrary investigations.
The grounds included “receiving funds to harm national interests and destroy the basic foundations of the state (the army, police, and judiciary),” “establishing an entity operating as a civic association without official registration,” and “income tax evasion.”
Four of these organizations and six NGO directors/board members have been subjected to asset freezes.
In the last two months, many NGO staff and directors have been summoned for interrogation by investigative judges, including ICJ partners Mustapha El-Hassan, Director of HMLC, Gamel Eid, Founder and Director of ANHRI, and Mohamed Zaree, CIHRS’ Programme Director and short-listed candidate for the Martin Ennals Award 2017.
The ICJ has previously documented how the Egyptian authorities have used the justice system as a repressive tool in their efforts to silence many of those suspected of opposing them.
“Egyptian authorities must comply with their obligations under international law and put an immediate end to their campaign to silence human rights defenders and NGOs. A first step in that direction would be the immediate repeal of the law on civic associations,” Benarbia said.
Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +41 22 979 38 17: said.benarbia(a)icj.org
Egypt-NGO Law-News-Press release-ARA (Press release in Arabic, PDF)NewsPress releases