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Egypt’s NGOs under threat: rights groups

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Civil society groups say their attempts to register have been refused or ignored

Rights groups have expressed concern for the future of Egypt’s civil society organisations as the registration deadline looms amid reports of refusals by the authorities.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has sent a memorandum to President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi reiterating its concerns for the “negative direction taken by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, which contravenes the spirit and letter of the constitution and demonstrates hostility toward civil society”, according to a Wednesday statement.

Amnesty International expressed concern over reports that, when dealing with non-governmental organisations looking to register before the 2 September deadline, the ministry has “in practice either refused to grant them registration or have ignored their applications to register”.

The registration rush came in response to a warning from Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali on 18 July for all NGOs to register within 45 days or face dissolution and accountability under the law. Groups have to receive permission to register from the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

CIHRS says the memorandum, delivered to Al-Sisi on Tuesday morning, “comes after civil society organizations have exhausted all other available channels to express their concerns”. The group reported that its head, Bahey eldin Hassan, met with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb on 24 July and presented a memorandum backed by 23 organisations calling for the latest draft of the NGO law, issued on 26 June by Wali, and her 18 July ultimatum to be withdrawn.

“Mehleb promised to meet with the signatory organisations within ten days to discuss their demands, but more than one month later he has not kept his promise,” said CIHRS on Wednesday. The same demands have now been sent to Al-Sisi.

CIHRS said Wali “disregarded” efforts by her predecessor Ahmed El-Borai, who held a dialogue with civil society organisations as part of the drafting of the NGO Law.

Amnesty International condemned the latest draft of the law, describing it as “more repressive” than the current law. The group says the draft law affords the government “sweeping powers” over the activities of civil society groups, including their registration and funding. Amnesty was also concerned that members of the Ministry of Interior and intelligence services would sit on a “committee overseeing international funding and the work of foreign NGOs”.

Earlier this week the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights submitted four suggestions to the head of the Commission on Legislative Reform. The suggestions included a bill on NGOs aiming to “encourage and stimulate the creation of civil society organizations and support their participation in the development”.


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