CIHRS field study| Security bodies hold sway over civil action under the umbrella of the Ministry of Social Solidarity

In Egypt /Road Map Program by

A CIHRS field study indicates:
• The Security bodies hold sway over civil action under the umbrella of the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
• Legal pressures hinder popular initiatives for the support of the Arab peoples&#146 rights.
• The NGO Laws in Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine are less authoritative than the Egyptian counterpart.

Press Release

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) warned of the Egyptian government&#146s tendency to impose more restrictions to shackle civil action via orientations aiming towards amending the existing Law on Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) which focuses all governmental power and hegemony on civil action. In this context, CIHRS pointed out that the potential liberation of civil action necessitates the absolute abandonment of the philosophy of hegemony that ravages the existing law. An alternative bill should be adopted based on international standards and the principles of civil action which safeguard its freedom and independence.
These were the outcomes of the legal and field study published by CIHRS entitled “Towards a Democratic Law for the Liberation of Civil Action”.

CIHRS stresses that the pressures exerted on civil action by virtue of the Law or in violation thereof are flagrantly represented in the evident inability of a wide range of Egyptians to organize independent initiatives in support of the Arab peoples&#146 rights. It does not seem peculiar, in this respect, that the mass demonstrations staged in protest to the Israeli massacres in Gaza have primarily erupted in countries where civil society activists are allowed a large space for expression and organization. Nor is it peculiar that the Egyptian public initiatives launched over the years in support of the Palestinian people have shun registration within the framework of a law that aborts all initiatives for material and moral humanitarian assistance.

The CIHRS study emphasizes that the explicit official tendency to amend the Law comes at a time when the country witnesses a growing trend of oppression targeting the freedoms of expression and association, as well as all forms of political and social mobility. In addition, it is quite indicative that advocating the law amendment is, for the first time since the emergence of human rights organizations, associated with the arbitrary closure or dissolution of two human rights organizations. This was confirmed by the Administrative Court ruling after a year or more since these measures were taken.

The study indicates that the existing Law is not only aloof of international standards that protect the freedom of association. In fact, many Arab legislations governing civil action, especially in Lebanon, Palestine and Morocco, reflect a better tendency to ease the restrictions ravaging the Egyptian legislation, be they related to inception, arbitrary intervention by the administrative body in the NGO internal management, the NGOs&#146 right to develop recourses via external donations or grants, or their right to voluntarily establish alliances, networks or unions and to join networks, regional or international organizations.

The field study that depended on 60 interviews with NGOs in seven Egyptian governorates observes that the vast majority of them had reservations on mentioning their names in the study in principle. In itself, this unveils the burden felt by those NGOs due to the pressures they may be subjected to, given the freehand enjoyed by the administrative body to have a firm grip on any undesirable NGO. This takes the form of objections to the NGO board decisions, procrastination approval of activities, discontinuing the approved funding, or subjection to financial and administrative audit that lasts for months.  Let alone the likelihood of dissolving and liquidating the NGOs without waiting for a court ruling with respect to the legality of such a measure.

The field study reveals that the administrative body, represented by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and its directorates in the different governorates, has become the actual umbrella through which the security bodies impose their final say, be it in licensing NGOs or objecting to some founders or leadership candidates. This growing security role is obvious with regard to the approval of external grants, in spite of the fact that the Law restricts the competencies of approving external funding to the Minister of Social Solidarity.

The field study also emphasizes that despite the massive competencies enjoyed by the administration under the Law, the practice shows that the arbitrary use of competencies is not all. The administrative body extorts more competencies in violation of the Law itself.

In this context, the study points out that the process of receiving external grants represents a especial evident to the violations of the Law. The executive regulations differentiate between grants allocated by foreign organizations with authorized offices in Egypt established by virtue of an agreement with the government, and grants that come from organizations with no representative offices in Egypt. The regulation obliges the NGOs with notification only in the first case. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Social Solidarity obliges NGOs to apply for its approval whether the grant comes from a foreign institution represented in Egypt or not.

The study notes that the administrative body tends to put into force regulations and ministerial decrees that date back to the 1970s and give it the right to arbitrarily intervene in managing NGO affairs in a manner not set forth by the Law. The instructions given by the administrative body to NGOs from time to time constitute not only the intervention in civil action, but flagrant violations of the people&#146s rights to movement and travel and the people&#146s and NGOs&#146 rights to exchange information, hold meetings, and communicate with the local, regional and international surroundings.

Although these instructions carry the signature of the directorates of Social Solidarity, it is more likely that they are dictated by security units. The instructions reached the extent of obliging the NGOs not to submit any information or data to any entity without consulting the administrative body first. The NGOs are also not to accept any invitation or hold any meeting with other NGOs without consulting it.

Some of the instructions even warn the NGOs against inviting Arab or foreign delegations and against accepting invitations from Arab or foreign entities without obtaining a security approval. All NGOs must consult the National Security Authority. This notification is concluded by a threat pronounced by the administrative body, not by the Ministry of Interior, that any negligence in this respect is to be countered with the utmost firmness.

The study concluded by addressing the foundations of the alternative bill prepared by CIHRS in cooperation with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). The bill has been widely supported at launch by a number of human rights organizations and NGOs that are members of the campaign for defending the freedom of association and the Egyptian Alliance for the Freedom of NGOs (EAFN).

The alternative bill addresses the right to establish NGOs by mere notification. It does not give the administrative body the competencies of ex-ante supervision of NGOs registration or of any of their work that fall under the mandates of their general assemblies, in addition to the ex-post supervision of the judiciary.

The bill acknowledges the NGOs&#146 right to undertake all fund-raising activities by a mere notification to be submitted to the administrative body. It also acknowledges their right to hold meetings within and outside their headquarters, to publish bulletins and periodicals, and to open branches and offices. The bill, further, safeguards the NGOs&#146 right to accede to networks and institutions outside Egypt while obliged to notify the administrative body of such an accession.

The bill does not entail any penal punishments. It is in favor of gradual punishments that NGOs may be sentenced to. However, dissolution of an NGO is prohibited unless it is by virtue of a final court ruling.

In this context, CIHRS announces that it holds a workshop this afternoon at 5 pm at Shepherd Hotel. The participants include an array of parliamentarians, human rights advocates, journalists and civil society activist in a bid to stimulating the endeavors for putting an end to the era of suppressing civil action and to adopt a democratic law that may reinstate the respect of the freedom of association and the right to establishing organizations.

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