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Rights groups in Egypt call on Morsi to withdraw bill designed to repress them

President Mohamed Morsi's party and his government are working to issue a new law designed to nationalize civil society which would deal a mortal blow to human rights organizations
President Mohamed Morsi's party and his government are working to issue a new law designed to nationalize civil society which would deal a mortal blow to human rights organizations

REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout

(CIHRS/IFEX) - The undersigned rights organizations strongly condemn the authoritarian tendencies of President Mohamed Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and his government, illustrated by their lack of respect for international human rights standards and their particular disregard for freedom of association.

The government is repressing civil society organizations' right 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 which would 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, to facilitate the suppression of freedom of expression and the press, and to 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 a 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.

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

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. 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, rights 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, Morsi's government seems intent on replacing one repressive associations law with another even more authoritarian in nature. The consultations in which the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (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 Morsi's government 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.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights


Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies
Arab Penal Reform Organization
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Center for Appropriate Communication Techniques (ACT)
Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Aid
Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights
Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Group for Human Rights Legal Assistance
Habi Center for Environmental Rights
Hisham Mubarak Law Center
Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners
Land Center for Human Rights
Masriyon Against Religious Discrimination
Nazra for Feminist Studies
New Woman Foundation

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