After 20 years: CIHRS moves its regional and international programs outside Egypt

In Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies has decided to move its regional and international programs outside Egypt in light of the ongoing threats to human rights organizations and the declaration of war on civil society. In particular, this move comes after the expiration of the deadline set by the Ministry of Social Solidarity for “unregistered entities” to register under a draconian associations law and the mounting security pressure aimed at shutting out every independent, critical voice from the public sphere, individuals and institutions, Islamist or secular, as well as the erosion of the pillars of the rule of law and the constitution and the deterioration of human rights in the country to a level unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. All of this is increasingly affecting the current and future plans of CIHRS programs. These same pressures and threats led major non-governmental, international rights groups to suspend their official activities in Egypt several months ago.

The CIHRS hopes that it will not need to move its Egypt program abroad as well, which includes projects for the teaching and dissemination of a culture of human rights and media projects, due to the ongoing hostility toward independent human rights groups. The CIHRS is registered in Egypt under Egyptian law. Of all the Arab and non-Arab countries where the CIHRS is registered, Egypt is the only one where human rights organizations face such pressures and threats.

The CIHRS has decided to move its regional programs to Tunisia, where it legally registered after the Tunisian revolution. Indeed, one of Tunisia’s major accomplishments in the first weeks of the revolution was the issuance of a democratic NGO law that meets international standards.

Over the past two years, the CIHRS was forced to move some of its regional activities to other Arab countries at the last minute after the Egyptian authorities denied entry to some Arab rights advocates, mistreated them at the Cairo airport, and arbitrarily deported them back to their home countries without stating cause. This harassment took other forms as well, such as denying guests entry visas or granting approval visas only after arbitrary, lengthy delays. These measures were taken against UN officials as well, who meet with much difficulty and unjustified delays of several months to obtain entry visas to Egypt to pursue their official tasks. Some non-Egyptian academics also felt unsafe conducting research in Egypt, having been held at the Cairo airport for unusually lengthy periods, asked unusual questions and having had their bags searched in their absence without their permission, only being informed later. They also suspected that their movements were being monitored by security because of the independent opinions they expressed in their articles and critical published research.

Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of the CIHRS, met with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb on July 24, 2014 and gave him a memorandum signed by 23 Egyptian rights groups. The memo asked that the Ministry of Social Solidarity withdraw its proposed law on civic associations (announced on June 26, 2014) and its warning (published in al-Ahram on July 18, 2014) to dissolve “civic entities” within 45 days. The signatories to the memo considered this “a declaration of war” on civil society and “a flagrant assault on other long-established forms of legal incorporation, recognized by the UN, for companies working in law and in activities of a development, academic, or cultural nature. This would inflict grave damage on the Egyptian legal system and erode national and international confidence in prevailing legal and judicial systems.” The memo also called on the ministry to re-engage in a dialogue over the NGO bill that came out of six months of negotiations in a committee that included the ministry and civil society representatives. That bill was submitted by the former minister, Dr. Ahmed al-Borai, to the Cabinet in January, for submission to the parliament immediately upon election. In addition, the memo called for “an end to the daily interference of the security apparatus in the activities of civil society organizations.”

The CIHRS also sent a memo to President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi on August 26 urging him to freeze Law 84/2002 regulating civic associations in regard to what the minister of social solidarity called “entities operating in the sphere of civic work” pending the issuance of a democratic NGO law that comports with the constitution and is passed by an elected parliament. As long as the government intends to amend the NGO law currently in effect (Law 84/2002), there is no reason for it to issue warnings about its application, while also publicly announcing that it has drafted a new law. Moreover, the government previously affirmed to the UN that this same law is undemocratic and it pledged to amend it. Despite this, the current administration did not respond to these appeals by rights organizations.

The prevailing media, security, and political rhetoric justifies and excuses the systematic assault on the constitution, the law, and human rights guarantees, arguing that exceptional measures aim to protect the Egyptian state from the fate of Libya, Syria, and Iraq. In fact, this logic is leading Egypt to the same abyss in which these three countries have fallen, adopting the practices and political discourse of Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Assad Sr. and Jr.

Establishment and activities

The CIHRS enjoys consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and observer status with the African Commission on Peoples’ and Human Rights. It is also a member of the several international, non-governmental networks and organizations. The CIHRS received the French Republic Award for Human Rights and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Award for Human Rights.

It is legally registered in several countries, including: Egypt, Switzerland, where the CIHRS maintains an office to follow its activities with UN human rights bodies, Tunisia where move its regional programs. The CIHRS intends to establish more than one branch in other countries in the coming months to manage its regional and international programs.

The CIHRS was founded in 1993 by Bahey eldin Hassan and the late Dr. Mohammed al-Sayyed Said.

Said was one of the few Egyptian academics who always sought to put the theories and ideas he believed in into daily practice. He embodied a rare combination of profound theoretical familiarity with issues of political, economic, social, and cultural development in the Arab world, especially Egypt, with a tangible presence on the frontlines of human rights defenders. He was jailed and tortured in 1989, when he was a member of the secretariat of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). He also occupied a prominent place in the Kefaya movement and other platforms for struggle, among them the independent al-Badil, where he served as the first editor-in-chief. During all this, he wrote books and articles and led an academic research team on human rights at the CIHRS. He helped to lay the institutional foundation for the EOHR and, with Bahey eldin Hassan, to establish the CIHRS.

Hassan began his work in human rights more than 30 years ago in the Freedoms Committee of the Journalists Syndicate. In 1984, he joined the Arab Organization for Human Rights, created in December 1983 and the next year took part in proceedings to establish the first Egypt office of Amnesty International. He helped to create the EOHR in 1985, the CIHRS in 1994, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network in 1998, and the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders in 2004. He is currently a member of the consultative boards of four international human rights bodies. During this period, Hassan has written articles and studies on human rights issues published in newspapers and books in both Arabic and English. He was also given the first award of the Journalists Syndicate in Egypt.

The CIHRS board of directors is led by Kamal Jendoubi, a Tunisian rights activist who was forced to operate in exile during the tenure of Zein al-Abdine Ben Ali. When he returned to Tunisia only a few days after the fall of the Ben Ali regime, he was met at the airport with a popular welcome. He was then elected the first president of the independent committee overseeing the general elections. He is also the founding president of the Committee for the Respect of Human Rights and Freedoms in Tunisia. He helped to establish the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, which he also headed for several years. He also contributed to the establishment of several Tunisian and non-Tunisian human rights organizations and coalitions, particularly for migrant rights, and he has written on human rights issues in Arabic and French.

The CIHRS has organized conferences over the last 20 years in ten cities in nine Arab, African, and European countries, including Rabat, Casablanca, Tunis, Beirut, Khartoum, Kampala, Paris, Copenhagen, Brussels, and Geneva. It has presented and discussed its annual report on human rights in the Arab world at numerous universities and research centers in the US, including in Washington, Harvard, New York, and Los Angeles. For the past 20 years, the CIHRS has helped to coordinate short-term common stances between human rights groups in the Arab world and proposed long-term common missions for the future, especially since its first conference in Casablanca in 1998. It has also helped to groom new leaders of human rights organizations in the Arab world since its first regional training seminar in 1996.

Just weeks ago, on November 8–10, Morocco hosted the proceedings of the first international forum on the human rights movement in the Arab world, on issues of democratization in the context of the Arab Spring and priorities for reform and change, organized by the CIHRS in concert with the National Council on Human Rights in Morocco. The CIHRS also organized a seminar in Marrakech on November 29 during the second Global Forum on Human Rights on the conclusions of its conference in Casablanca.

The CIHRS is the most prolific publisher of human rights materials in the Arab world, although it is not a professional publishing house. Some of its publications have been reprinted in Morocco, Indonesia, and Egypt (by the General Egyptian Book Organization and in English by AUC). One of its publications, The Wisdom of Egyptians, edited by Dr. Mohammed al-Sayyed Said, received the Cairo Book Fair award. The CIHRS has also issued around 67 human rights periodical issue under the name of Rowaq Arabi, since 1996. The nexus of political Islam and human rights has been one of the most important issues addressed by the CIHRS publications, periodicals, and conferences over two decades, with the participation of distinguished rights advocates and academics from in and out of the Arab world. This same issue was the focus of the most recent CIHRS international activity, held at the University of London, which in September hosted a roundtable organized by the CIHRS with the participation of academics and rights advocates from the Arab world, Asia, Europe, and the US.

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