Report: Egypt’s Nonprofits Locked in Political Stranglehold

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has clamped down on nonprofit organizations’ ability to operate in the country. A recent Washington Post report detailed just how dire the situation has become.

Four years removed from the Arab Spring, nonprofit civil society organizations operating in Egypt find themselves worse off than they were under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

According to a Washington Post report published last week, the increasingly authoritarian regime that has risen to power has clamped down on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as part of a push to eliminate dissent. The effort, spearheaded by President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, has included travel restrictions on nonprofit employees, strict requirements to register with the Egyptian government, and oversight of donations, among other regulations.

There are very clear attempts by the government to eliminate human rights work in Egypt at a time of some of the worst human rights violations.

“There are very clear attempts by the government to eliminate human rights work in Egypt at a time of some of the worst human rights violations,” Mohamed Zaree, program director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told the Post.

A decree issued by Sissi last year stated that anyone found to be receiving foreign aid with the intent to harm Egypt’s “national interests” could be sentenced to life in prison. That law followed the rejection of registration bids from U.S. nonprofit groups in 2012 and the conviction of 43 nonprofit workers last summer, including 16 Americans, for illegally receiving foreign funds. The verdict also ordered the closure of the organizations that employed the convicted workers.

“It actually doesn’t matter if you register or not. It’s about the type of activities your organization is involved in—if the government approves of them or not,” Zaree told the Post. “We are working in an environment that is worse than it was under Mubarak. We really are fighting for our survival.”

Sissi’s regime, which came to power as part of a coup in 2013, has targeted NGOs because it believed civil society groups were behind the 2011 uprising, human rights activists say.

A Call for Help

Though Egyptian law guarantees “freedom of association,” Freedom House, a civil society group that employed several of the workers convicted last summer, said it’s all a front.

“NGOs, particularly those involved in human rights advocacy, are frequently denied registration, and … NGOs that are unable to register often continue to operate, although they face the threat of closure and are not eligible for the benefits available to registered NGOs,” the group said on its website. “Laws governing the financing of NGOs leave human rights organizations vulnerable to punishment on political grounds … [and employees face] intimidation and arrest because of their work.”

Human rights groups have consistently spoken out against the laws targeting NGOs in Egypt. Before Sissi issued his decree last year, Amnesty International called on the U.S. government to get involved.

“If this crackdown goes ahead, it will shut down Egypt’s 30-year-old human rights community at the time when it is needed the most,” the group wrote in a blog post. “If the United States government stands silent in such a crisis, it will be our shame as citizens and residents of this country. But ultimately, the Egyptians who just three years ago stood in Tahrir Square will carry all the loss.”

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, right, shown with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. (U.S. State Department)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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