After a Revolution and a coup d’état, old tricks still work in Egypt
By Chloé de Radzitzky
The Egyptian Parliament approved last Tuesday a project law regulating the activities of NGOS working on the defense of human rights. Judged as being an insult to the Egyptian constitution by commentators, the text has been sent to the Council of State for checks and amendments. This initiative arrives at a moment where president Al Sissi is extremely criticized for the violations of human rights committed by his regime. It is not however the first time in the history of the country that the Egyptian civil society faces attacks from the regime in power. President Nasser had already established a corporatist system in Egypt, therefore regulating the activities of NGOS and other components of civil society.
The Parliament adopted a bill to reduce the work of NGOS to the social and environmental questions. Any organizations acting out of this frame and exercising its activities on the Egyptian ground would be subjected to heavy fine, or to a sentence which can go to five years in jail. This decision strikes a blow at the work of the organizations of defense of human rights regularly denouncing the abuses of the Egyptian regime. These organizations are of the upmost importance because they are a channel through which State’s actions can be criticized. It is through this kind of organizations that the population can express itself as regards the abuses of the State
It is not the first time when the regime in the power regulates the activities occurring within the civil society, proving that the old methods can turn out still useful. The law proposed by the government Sissi is indeed reminiscent of the attitude of president Nasser during the implementation of a corporatist system to regulate the civil society (a system which continued until the era Mubarak). For Nicola Pratt: » State corporatism functioned to subordinate mass organizations and other groups to the regime » (Pratt, 2007:7). This system establishes certain control of the State over the activities of non-governmental organizations. The cooptation of some of these organizations corresponds to the definition of the corporatist, symptomatic system of the authoritarian societies. In 1956, Nasser published a decree dissolving all the non-governmental organizations, forcing them to ask for a license allowing them to continue their activities to the Ministry of Social Affairs. Without the authorization of this administrative body, these organizations did not have the right any more to join. The law n°32 which was published eight years later strengthened the control of the Ministry over these associations.
Sixty years later, a new state agency is to be born to regulate the activity of organizations defending human rights. Indeed, the bill plans to forbid NGOs conducting field work, or cooperating with foreign countries without having received the approval of a state agency. This agency consists at the same time of members of the army, of Home Secretary and intelligence services. The reason why NGOS cannot cooperate any more freely with NGOS or even with international organizations (for example the UN) is that the government considers foreign powers finance Egyptian NGOS to incite them to create a political instability.
The existence of a civil society independent from the State is an essential element for the liberal societies. The organizations of defense of human rights and more generally, the civil society are the gatekeepers against potential abuses from the State. To prevent these organizations from making their work and from denouncing the abuses has for unique purpose to commit its hegemony by preventing criticisms of the system. This private bill thus represents a step backward worrying about Egypt given that its constitution allows the free creation of NGO. However, the bill plans from now on that these can be closed in 100 days following their creations if they do not satisfy the conditions established by this one.
Pratt, N. C., 2007. Democracy and authoritarianism in the Arab world. Boulder: Lynne Rienner
Daily star: https://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Nov-15/381410-challenging-government-egypts-parliament-approves-repressive-ngo-bill.ashx
Le Temps: https://www.letemps.ch/monde/2016/11/10/alsissi-musele-toujours-plus-societe-civile-loccident-se-tait
The Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Egypt-cracks-down-on-human-rights-groups-473067