Posts tagged Egypt
Joint Press Release by 25 Human Rights Organizations
The undersigned human rights organizations declare their utter rejection of the new draft law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs), prepared by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs and which aims to nationalize civil society. Under this law civil society would be considered an institution of the government, and NGO staff would be regarded as civil servants. Furthermore, the new law would impose several new arbitrary restrictions aiming to terrorize civil society activists.
This draft law actually epitomizes the same philosophy of tightening the firm grip on civil society organizations in general and stifling human rights organizations in particular. The new draft law goes even further in its restrictions than all of the previous laws which have repressed civil society since the proclamation of Law No. 32 of 1964. The undersigned human rights organizations warn Parliament against the adoption of this anti-civil society draft law, which is designed to undermine the already limited margin allowed for NGO activities and imposes exorbitant fees for establishing NGOs, thereby stifling the interest of citizens in establishing or participating in the work of such groups. These undersigned organizations reaffirm their support for the draft law which they presented before the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee in January of this year.
The main features of the new draft law are:
1) The philosophy of the draft law reflects the government’s ambitions to integrate civil society organizations into the state apparatus. Hence, the law considers NGO staff to be state employees. This runs counter to the philosophy and understanding of civil society in democratic societies, in which civil society is an autonomous sector independent from state control which works freely to perform the services that the state fails to provide.
2) Based on its philosophy which lacks any professional basis or reference, the draft law regards board members of associations, NGOs, and their affiliated unions and staff as civil servants as well. This anomalous classification clashes with the concept of civil servants found in jurisprudence provisions of the Egyptian law and rulings of the Egyptian courts, in which a civil servant is defined as “any person entrusted with a function of a permanent nature in a public utility run by the State; or any person who becomes subject to public law by way of his work in a position which falls under the administrative organization of the said utility.” Hence, in order to acquire the capacity of a civil servant, a person must work in the service of a state-run public utility through direct employment. Therefore, even according to the reading of Egyptian law, associations and NGOs are subject to private law – just as are corporations - because these organizations are not public utilities run by the state. Therefore, it is illogical to consider their funds to be public funds, just as it is illogical to consider their administrators to be civil servants.
3) Based on the distorted line of thought of the crafters of the new draft law, who consider NGOs to be part of the state’s administrative structure, the said draft law allows the government to intervene in the minutest details of NGOs’ affairs (such as in the composition of a general assembly, method of convening such a general assembly, dates of its meetings, and method of membership and withdrawal of members, as well as in the composition or election of a Board of Directors, dates of board meetings, and competencies and functions of each board member - according to executive regulations - and even extending to include the government’s right to dissolve a NGO’s Board of Directors). Such powers are explicitly inconsistent with the logic of a civil society, since NGOs fundamentally arise from the will of their founders and run their affairs according to the vision of their constituent members, not that of the government.
Similarly, the draft law allows the government to request that the judiciary dissolve any association if the government deems that the association is incapable of accomplishing the objectives for which it was established. Not only is the wording used here vague and easily distorted, but the only two parties which have the right to evaluate an association’s activities and whether or not it has accomplished its objectives are the association itself and the public which is served by the services of said association. What is truly ridiculous about this clause, however, is to think that the nation, its security, and its key interests could be endangered because an association was incapable of accomplishing its aims!