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Egypt: Relentless attack on civil society threatens transition to democratic governance

21 October 2011. Johannesburg. The actions of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ (SCAF) is diminishing the space for civil society in Egypt and threatening the country’s transition to democracy, said CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement (EACPE) today. The recent attack on Coptic Christian protesters on 10 October 2011 is just the latest and most worrying example in a trend of attacks on civil society.

“The army’s use of excessive force to respond to the recent Coptic Christian protests left 25 people dead, about 329 wounded and demonstrated how military leaders have slipped back into repressive practices,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “This was the biggest outright attack by the military against civil society protesters since the overthrow of Mubarak and raises uncertainty over SCAF’ ability to steer Egypt to democracy and civilian rule.”

Other SCAF attacks on civil society reported by local activists include the re-introduction of the emergency law on 11 September 2011, which includes repressive practices justified as counter-terrorism and anarchy and prevents the 'publication of false news’. In addition, SCAF amended by decree number 193, the emergency law and introduced new articles on public disorders, terrorism, riots, threatening national security, possessing weapons and ammunitions, possessing narcotics, thuggish acts and damaging the public properties. This has resulted in increased harassment of civil society through the suppression and arrest of protesters, intimidation of activists and unfair trials of civilians in military tribunals infamously used in Mubarak’s repressive regime.

“Civil society in Egypt was central to the removal of the oppressive regime of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, but since then, civil society space has been dramatically reduced under the military rule,” said Rasha Mosharka of EACPE. “The growing decline of freedoms of assembly, expression and association raises new concerns for civil activism in Egypt’s journey to democracy. SCAF needs to recommit to civil society, who trusted them with the transition process, of their full adherence to democratic principles, the rule of law and the protection of all human rights in Egypt.”

Since June 2011, several incidents of harassment of activists with arbitrary arrest and military prosecution were recorded by local activists. Examples include the arrest of Internet activist Loay Nagay for participating in the June 29 demonstrations, the alleged beating of Yasmine by the military during the clamp down on protesters in Abbasseya and who was later dumped on the streets of Nasr City, the illegal detention of activist and blogger Amr Gharbeya on July 23 based on accusations of being a spy, and the military trial of Asmaa Mahfouz, a political activist, on August 16 on charges of insulting the military.

“SCAF has persistently used arrests and military tribunals against civilians and cracked down on public protests and freedom of expression,” said Mosharka.

As part of their attack on civil society, the Egyptian National Council in a statement during a press association conference on 10 August stated “no to foreign funding…no to foreign intervention.” According to a report by EACPE, the statement proposed a restrictive environment on all forms of external financing for civil society organisations including disclosure of names and lists of recipient of funds from any third party with a particular focus on the Gulf states, the United States and the European Union. The Council also stressed that foreign funding was a threat to national security and a tool of corruption and those implicated should be referred to the national security prosecutor for investigation.

“Criminalising foreign funding deeply impedes the work of human rights defenders and civil society organisations to address the social issues of Egyptian citizens. It also gives SCAF further means of threatening organisations critical of government,” said Srinath. “We urge SCAF to uphold the fundamental human rights of all Egyptian people and seek the active participation of Egyptian civil society to guarantee a smooth transition to democracy and good governance”

Specifically, CIVICUS and EACPE recommend that SCAF:
  • Immediately cease the application of the flawed emergency law that encourages the use of oppressive practices such as continuance of military trials and arbitrary arrest and harassment of political and human rights activists. 
  • Repeal the restrictive NGO law (Law 84/2002) which empowers the government to suppress independent civil society as well as exert state pressure through the government controlled General Federation of Civic Associations and the regional federations and 
  • Investigate allegations of the use of excessive force by the military against peaceful protestors especially the allegation of military vehicles crushing civilians to death. 

CIVICUS is a legally registered non-profit 501 (c) (3) organisation, EIN 52-1847010 (USA)

CIVICUS is a registered non-profit organisation, registration number 029-864-NPO (South Africa) 

As a signatory/member to the INGO Accountability Charter CIVICUS is committed to upholding the highest standards of professional conduct and accountability.

Copyright (c) 1996  -  2012, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
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