20 Jun 2013

Court Ruling Against NGOs in Egypt Raises Concerns about Role of Civil Society in New Regime

Egypt court ruling against NGOs Earlier this month an Egyptian Court convicted 43 employees of non-profit organisations to up to five years imprisonment, under charges of membership in illegal organisations. The prosecution’s main argument was that those organisations were receiving foreign funds and promoting political activities without being registered by the government, thereby ultimately infringing on the sovereignty of the Egyptian state.The trial, which began in early 2012, also mandated the closure and seizure of offices and assets belonging to US-based International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, and to Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

This decision was the outcome of a crackdown on foreign non-profit groups that took place during the military rule that followed Hosni Mubarak’s ousting. In December 2011, the state security forces raided several offices of organisations that had been defending democracy and human rights in the country, accusing them of promoting anti-government protests and operating illegally. The organisations claimed that the government had stalled all registration procedures.

The current administration, under Mohammed Morsi, has also taken steps to further constrain civil society activities in Egypt. A law proposed to regulate the operation and funding of NGOs in the country requires that foreign NGOs be approved by a state committee and that each foreign donation received by national non-profit organisations also be submitted to time-consuming approval procedures. This poses a threat mainly to human rights groups that receive almost exclusively foreign funding.

Representatives of 40 Egyptian civil society organisations have presented a joint statement in reaction to the government’s attempts to further curb their activities in the country and suppress rights to association at large. They claim that the vague language of the provisions in the draft law allows the government much discretion to bar an organisation. Although the law is less restrictive in regulating the registration of local non-profit organisations, it creates much leeway for limiting the activities of foreign organisations.

These recent developments further contribute to existing concerns about the path that Egypt is taking in its democratic transition. These constraints to civil society activity may be severely detrimental to democratic consolidation in the country, as historical examples of democratic transitions show that civil society often plays a fundamental role in this process.

(The picture featured above is from al-monitor.com and is credited to Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.)