Demonstration of the Kifaya movement in 2005 against a fifth term for presindet Mubarak who at the time was 77. The protesters hold papers with te Arabic word kifaya (enoug) on top.
A draft law in Egypt curbing the independence of local NGOs has angered aid workers and bodes ill for civil society. The bill, which is due to go to parliament, would tighten the government’s supervision of local NGOs. They fear that the governmenmt will try to mute opposition in parliamentary elections later this year and presidential elections next year.
“Egypt’s civil society is crippled already with laws that curb its freedom,” Baheieddin Hassan, head of local NGO the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, told IRIN. “The new law will inhibit civil society even more by doing what amounts to nationalizing it.”
The new law, which was leaked to the local Arabic press on 7 March, would usher in a new government-appointed association called the General Federation for Civil Society Organizations. The new organisation will be responsible for authorizing the work of local NGOs. Civil society activists and NGOs who work without authorization from, or registration with, this association would risk prison sentences.
Many civic organizations, from human rights NGOs, to pro-democracy think-tanks, to single-issue advocacy groups have managed to escape the grasp of the government for years, allowing the proliferation of a strong and increasingly sophisticated civil society in Egypt. In addition to that there are also groups that have aggressively lobbied for change and political reform, including the protest group Kefaya (Enough) and National Society for Change, of Mohamed el-Baradei, former chief of the international atomic energy watchdog. El-Baradei is currently touring Egypt to rally support for political and constitutional reform.
“These movements and non-profit corporations seem to have unnerved the government on many occasions by their continuous demands for reform,” said Hafez Abu Saeda, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, by far the country’s largest rights group. “So the government thought up this law to bring them all to an end.”
Instead of receiving funding directly from donor organizations and countries, NGOs will have to apply to the Social Solidarity Ministry for it to decide whether they deserve the funding. “These applications must, of course, go to a state security office for investigation,” said Hassan. “This means that Egypt’s state security will manage the whole thing.”
Officials from the Social Solidarity Ministry deny this. They said the proposed law aims to regulate Egypt’s civil society and not impede its work. “We’re still discussing all views in this regard,” said Aziza Youssef, head of the civil society section in the ministry.