By Amir Makar
CAIRO: Several prominent civil society organizations jointly condemned a draft bill proposed by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, which “nationalizes the entire civil sector and integrates it into the state administration.”
“This proposal is the worst deterioration of civil society law since 1956,” said Baheyeddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS). “And that was when the July 23 junta amended the law to their liking at the detriment of the civil sector.”
Hassan said that the draft doesn’t even compare to the “already-flawed law of 2002,” which has been repeatedly criticized by the NGOs, who produced a contrasting draft on their own. He considered the law as part of a long-standing campaign by the government and the security apparatus to clamp down on NGOs.
He alluded to the high profile “unauthorized foreign funding” case against foreign and local NGOs operating in Egypt brought by international cooperation minister Fayza Aboul Naga, which resulted in the public trial, and (unauthorized) public release of the accused workers.
“This campaign used the judiciary and the media to set the right climate for such legislation,” said Hassan, describing the draft as one of its implicit goals.
“The current law, issued in 2002, is already dreadful,” he continued, recalling a prior draft that was prepared during the Nazif government. “[That draft] was later adopted by Essam Sharaf’s social solidarity minister, Gouda Abdel-Khalek, and was [surprisingly] much worse than the current law in force.”
Hassan maintained however that even that draft paled in comparison to the current one by the social affairs ministry.
“The Abdel-Khalek draft was quickly shelved as the campaign against HR-defenders began, as the government opted to focus public attention on it until [the current] draft was made,” he said.
The draft has been jointly condemned by 25 prominent NGOs and public associations including CIHRS, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, among others.
According to a CIHRS press-release, the draft carriers a “merger philosophy” that essentially removes the ‘non-governmental’ aspect of NGOs and rather considers public associations as state institutions, their funds public (supervised by the government), and their workers as state employees.
Additionally, the draft permits the government to “interfere in the finest details of associations,” such as the formation of the general assembly, the timings of its meetings, and the formation of the administrative board, in addition to other clauses.
The requirement on the number of founders was also doubled to 20 (from the current minimum of 10), “impeding the rights of citizens to form associations,” according to CIHRS.
Moreover, the draft authorizes the government to approve the creation of associations, and permits it to dissolve them at will if it perceives that they are “unable to achieve the aims for which they were founded.”
Following up on that note, the draft states that government representatives overseeing association affairs are not restricted to the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, but to “all concerned authorities,” which according to CIHRS translates into a backdoor for the security apparatus to interfere according to its liking.
The draft also features other draconian measures, such as the ban on any association “to perform field research,” the ban on defending the rights of workers in a specific profession or any form of solidarity with them.
Most prominently, a ban additionally is imposed on “any other positive or negative political activity whose exercise is restricted to political parties,” and another on receiving any form of external funding unless authorized by the government.
Likewise, accession or association into any international network or umbrella organization is also prohibited without prior government authorization.
Regarding what options the associations themselves had in mind, Hassan said that discussions were made with the People’s Assembly’s human rights committee and other members of parliament.
“We’ve presented them with another draft proposed by CIHRS in collaboration with EOHR,” he said, “which was adopted by prominent MPs such as Amr Hamzawy, and garnered high approval within the PA’s human rights committee.”
Hassan says he can’t make predictions on what will happen next, as there are the unthinkable examples of unforeseen proceedings, such as the sudden entry of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat El-Shater into the presidential race, followed by former Vice-President Omar Suleiman.
“Then you have the fiasco with the constituent assembly and the administrative court’s ruling on its composition, and the looming spectre of the possible Supreme Court ruling on the elections’ legitimacy that could dissolve the parliament itself,” he added.
“The country is on shifting sands, and no one knows what could happen next,” Hassan concluded.