'The Egyptian government is waging a war on civil society'

The Guardian
Date of source:
14 Oct 2015

When the Egyptian government announced last month that it had dissolved 57 NGOs, all accused of having links to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, it was just the latest step in a process which, under the guise of anti-terrorist policy, is tearing apart the carefully woven fabric of Egyptian society. To date 1,300 MB-affiliated NGOs have been seized, assets were frozen, their premises confiscated by the state and management taken over by the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

Over the years, the Egyptian government has targeted other NGOs, in particular organisations calling for social reform, political liberalisation, and respect for human rights and workers’ rights. According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law the “effect of the restrictive legal framework … has not been to ban civil society outright but rather to give enormous discretionary powers to the Ministry of Social Solidarity”. All civil society must register with the government, while – as in other countries – counter-terrorism legislation is also invoked against “any association, organisation, group or gang” that attempts to “destabilise the public order or … endanger social unity.”

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), one of the most respected and influential human rights organisations in Egypt, decided to register to cut the red herring of their legal status out of the debate, which has initiated a long-winded cat-and-mouse process. In the meantime they have had to downsize from 80 staff members to 40 and limit the foreign funds they are receiving. “The model we built [relying on foreign funding] was unsustainable,” says Gasser Abdel Razek, executive director of EIPR. “We had a golden opportunity to capitalise on millions who called for human dignity in 2011 … we have a huge following and this is what we need to build on.” He is now seriously examining the option of crowd-funding through membership contributions.

Cornelis Hulsman:It is exaggerated to provide a title with "The Egyptian government is waging a war on civil society." Yes, NGOs with Muslim Brotherhood links are targeted but that is not civil society in general. Of course NGOs must register with the government and of course organizations should not be involved in destabilizing public order or endanger social unity. Our NGO has not had any problems with Egyptian authorities but processes we are dealing with are very bureaucratic.



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