President Obama Urged to Take Action to Protect Egyptian Civil Society
New York City – Human Rights First today urged President Obama to follow through on pledges to support a robust civil society in Egypt and press Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to ease the government’s targeting of independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) through the restrictive registration requirements of the 2002 Law on Associations. The call came in a letter to the president signed by members of nine human rights organizations, including Human Rights First, as well as former White House Deputy National Security Advisor.
“Until now, authorities unofficially permitted some groups to operate without registering. Today, there is every reason to believe many of those groups, as well as others, will face dissolution and potentially jail terms for their most prominent members,” wrote the group. “The  law clearly violates international freedom of association standards. We urge you to engage preventively and use all available means to make clear to President al-Sisi that there will be serious consequences if there is a further crackdown on NGOs. It is essential that your administration not take a “wait-and-see” approach to this serious threat.”
The Egyptian government has recently announced its intention to force all associations to register by November 10 or face legal consequences. The 2002 Law on Associations empowers the Egyptian government to shut down any group virtually at will, freeze its assets, confiscate its property, reject nominees to its governing board, block its funding, and deny requests to affiliate with international organizations. In addition, registration is often not granted to any organization viewed as critical of the government. The law provides prison terms for what would become “unauthorized activities” if the groups refuse to register or are not granted registration. Many Egyptian civil society and human rights organizations have refused to register as NGOs due to the concern that doing so will undermine their ability to function independently and fulfill their mandates.
In recent months, the Egyptian government has led a campaign to quash political dissent. In September of this year, President Sisi signed into law harsh new penalties targeting human rights activists and civil society groups that accept foreign funds for activities deemed to “harm the national interest.” In addition to targeting NGOs, the Egyptian government has used excessive force against protesters, imprisoned thousands of political dissidents and several journalists, and held unfair trials leading to harsh sentences. The crackdown has left more than 2000 protesters dead while tens of thousands more are in prison, many detained without charge for extended periods and subjected to torture and inhumane conditions.
Human Rights First continues to urge the United States to reshape its side of the bilateral relationship with Egypt to promote a path toward stability and a human rights respecting democracy in Egypt. The organization also urges the United States to honor the pledge made by President Obama last month in New York to continue and enhance its support for independent civil society organizations, especially those seeking to promote and defend human rights and to hold the government to account.