Morsi’s government must withdraw bill to nationalize civil society from Shura Council and reject FJP bill to stifle human rights organizations

The undersigned rights organizations strongly condemn the authoritarian tendencies of President Mohamed Morsi’s party (the Freedom and Justice Party) and his government, illustrated by their lack of respect for international human rights standards and particular disregard for the freedom of association. The government is repressing the right of civil society organizations to freely carry out their activities through arbitrary limitations on their financial resources and security interference in their work, as seen in the statement directed at “local entities” by the prime minister warning them against participating in any activities with what he called “foreign bodies” without obtaining permission to do so from the security apparatus – despite the fact that there is no legal basis for this. The president’s party and his government are working to issue a new law designed to nationalize civil society and deal a mortal blow to human rights organizations. There are currently two similar bills under consideration, differing in their details but evincing the same authoritarian philosophy. Either bill, if passed, will serve to insulate the old machine of repression and torture from criticism and oversight, facilitate the suppression of freedom of expression and the press, and eliminate the relative protection that rights groups currently provide to victims of human rights abuses.

The FJP bill adopts the same outlook as the bill submitted by the Ministry of Social Affairs, which seeks to nationalize civil society. The FJP bill considers assets of domestic associations and civic entities as well as the funds collected by foreign organizations in the country to be public monies. It grants the security apparatus – through the Minister of Social Affairs – the right to reject the activities of civil society organizations by giving the Minister of Social Affairs the right to determine what funding will be allowed for which activities. The bill further gives the minister the right to reject funds without stating cause. The bill also preserves liberty-depriving penalties for those who violate its provisions, and stipulates that the activities of foreign organizations must be consistent with the “needs” of Egyptian society. That is, the bill gives the security coordinating committee arbitrary authority to proscribe the civic activities of foreign organizations on overly broad, vague grounds.[1]

The proposed NGO laws, whether the one written by Morsi’s government or his party, essentially reproduce the NGO law that Mubarak sought to issue in the last months before the revolution.[2]

The president’s party and government employ the same justifications and claims used by the Mubarak regime as a pretext for campaigns of repression or in order to pass more repressive laws. This is clear in statements made by the FJP legal advisor: In defending the proposed law to national civil society, he declared, “What if one gets money from Israel? From the Jews? From the Zionists, to destroy Egypt?” The Muslim Brother and FJP leader said that restrictions on foreign funding are necessary to prevent Egypt’s enemies from hatching conspiracies against the country and to prevent money laundering.[3] These accusations come directly from the Mubarak regime’s playbook and are employed to cover up the primary objective – namely, the desire of the ruling regimes, both the former and the current regimes, to violate human rights with impunity. These statements are full of hate-speech directed against the followers of a particular religion simply for their different beliefs, yet the FJP legal advisor does not seem to realize that he is instigating hatred against Egyptian Jews.

When the Muslim Brotherhood was part of the opposition, prior to the revolution, they did not ask about the funding sources of human rights groups that earnestly defended the rights of Brotherhood members and leaders – including their right to a fair trial before a neutral judge rather than a military court. But with the Brotherhood in the seat of power, for the first time in Egypt’s history the Constitution includes provisions for the trial of civilians in military courts, and now the Brotherhood is seeking to end the funding and activities of human rights organizations. The Brotherhood is no longer the victim; rather, the people have become the victim of the Brotherhood’s repressive policies.

For many years, right organizations have defended the right to freedom of association – including the right to form political parties, independent unions, and NGOs – and worked to protect human rights defenders. They have proposed alternatives to the successive laws regulating civil society organizations, as these laws were criticized both internationally and within Egypt for their repression of the right to association. Recently, these organizations also presented a draft law which is in accordance with international standards; however, the government of Dr. Morsi seems intent on replacing one repressive associations law with another even more authoritarian in nature. The consultations in which CIHRS had participated upon the invitation of the Ministry of Justice were abruptly ended after only two meetings; immediately before the third was scheduled to take place, the Ministry hastily submitted its bill to the Shura Council. This clearly indicates the extent of the disdain with which the government of Dr. Morsi has undertaken discussions with different actors in society, considering them merely artificial procedures which must be undertaken in order to justify passing its own pre-drafted laws “democratically.”

The undersigned organizations ask the president to withdraw from the Shura Council the government’s bill to nationalize civil society, and call on the president’s party, the FJP, to make an immediate break with the repressive philosophy of the former regime, embodied in its Constitution, policies, practices, and successive pieces of legislation.

 

Signatories:

1.     Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
2.     Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies.
3.     Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
4.     Arab Penal Reform Organization.
5.     Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
6.     Center for Appropriate Communication Techniques (ACT) .
7.     Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Aid.
8.     Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services.
9.     Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement.

10. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.

11. Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights.

12. Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions.

13. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

14. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

15. Group for Human Rights Legal Assistance.

16. Habi Center for Environmental Rights.

17. Hisham Mubarak Law Center.

18. Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners.

19. Land Center for Human Rights.

20. Masriyon Against Religious Discrimination.

21. Nazra for Feminist Studies.

22. New Woman Foundation.



[1] “Egypt: The Freedom and Justice Party Endorses Repressive NGO Law,” <https://cihrs.org/?p=5909&lang=en>; “Strangling Civil Society with Repressive Laws,” https://cihrs.org/?p=5875&lang=en

[2] “Toward the ‘Militarization’ of NGOs: a Fascist Law to Strangle Civil Society” (Arabic), March 2010, http://www.anhri.net/?p=2947

[3] “Egyptian Civil Society Sees Echoes of Past in New Law,” http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/25/us-egypt-ngos-idUSBRE91O0TZ20130225 ; for the similarity in outlook between the president’s party and his government, see statements by the legal advisor of the minister of social affairs, http://www2.youm7.com/News.asp?NewsID=805926

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