Moving Beyond the Impasse on U.S. Support for Human Rights and Democracy Groups in Egypt
New York City — Human Rights First condemns the continuing harassment of independent civil society organizations in Egypt, including travel bans and threats of prosecution against United States citizens working for U.S. organizations in Cairo. While these developments have rightly concerned U.S. government and policy makers, they should not lose sight of the fact that Egyptian human rights and democracy activists remain the most at risk in the Egyptian government’s clampdown on independent civil society. “The Egyptian government’s reckless escalation of the ongoing crisis there by targeting the work of independent NGOs suggests a political motive to the attacks spearheaded by forces within Egypt’s government that are hostile to human rights and democratic values,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “They have raided NGO offices, seized files and computers, summoned NGO leaders and staff members for questioning, and targeted hundreds of organizations and activists for investigation and possible criminal charges. These actions carried out by Egyptian authorities are undermining the capacity of civil society groups to carry out their vital functions of monitoring human rights violations, challenging official corruption and impunity and promoting democratic freedoms. At this time of uncertain transition Egypt is especially in need of these organizations.” According to Hicks, Egypt’s transition has so far favored the military establishment with its many privileges and interests to defend, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party is now by far the largest in the newly elected parliament. Unreformed remnants of the previous regime remain in power throughout the government bureaucracy and even continue to head ministries. None of these powerful forces are associated with strong support for liberal democratic values. These realities on the ground mean that U.S. policy makers are now faced with a dilemma. They do not want to play into the hands of those in Egypt who are seeking political gain by escalating a dispute over the work of NGOs. At the same time, they must hold firm to principles of support for independent human rights and democracy promotion organizations and their right to seek and obtain necessary funding from diverse sources, including from outside of Egypt. Human Rights First recently put forward recommendations designed to move beyond the current impasse in U.S.-Egyptian relations towards a durable agreement on the continuing provision of U.S. support for independent human rights and democracy promotion groups in Egypt. These include:
- Advancing a framework of mutually agreed upon international standards as the basis of a durable arrangement for U.S. human rights and democracy assistance;
- Entering a period of consultations with the emerging new political forces in Egypt, including the parliament, the president, when he is elected, and the new government that will be formed after those elections to reach agreement on international assistance in these areas in the future;
- The creation of a voluntary NGO standards body that would be an independent Egyptian institution involved in coordinating international assistance to Egyptian NGOs and the promotion of best practices among them;
- Calling for the revision of the restrictive Mubarak-era law on associations and its replacement by a law that complies with international standards in the field of freedom of association.
For more information about these recommendations, please read Egypt’s Transition to Democracy One Year On: Recommendations for U.S. Policy.