Fayza Aboulnaga’s March 10 op-ed, “Why Egypt moved on the NGOs,” overlooked the struggle of Egyptian civil society for a democratic legal framework consistent with international law.
Under Egyptian law, individuals must obtain permission from the government to associate or they risk imprisonment. The application process for nongovernmental organizations can take months, if not years, while a group’s founders are vetted by security agencies. Mandatory registration violates international law, and the government uses this requirement to exclude organizations it disfavors. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights waited more than 15 years before receiving a license to operate; many other groups are never registered.
Even if the registration hurdle is overcome, organizations face government interference with nearly all aspects of their activities. In addition, the government can ban funding from practically any source. Recently, the government prohibited the New Woman Foundation from accepting a $5,000 “Nelson Mandela Innovation Award,” citing unspecified “security reasons.”
In the wake of the Arab Spring, Tunisia and Libya are reforming antiquated, authoritarian NGO laws. In contrast, the Egyptian government recently proposed legislation to further clamp down on civil society. Casting this issue as a dispute over illegal NGOs is rhetorically clever. But it disguises the fundamental point that Egypt’s policy violates international law.
Kareem Elbayar, Amman, Jordan
The writer is a lawyer with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.