U.S. Should Condemn Proposed Repressive NGO Legislation in Egypt
Washington, D.C. – As fears grow about proposed bills that will further repress civil society in Egypt, the United States government should publicly condemn the new legislation and make clear that such policy is a setback for human rights, said Human Rights First today. The United States has acknowledged that the proposals “would have a chilling effect on the ability of Egyptian NGOs in the first instance, but also international NGOs to support the democratic process in Egypt,” but as passage looms, U.S. officials should go further and be more forceful in their condemnation.
“The United States should show Egyptian civil society that it is firmly on their side in this struggle and will not support new laws that limit civil society groups’ ability to fully participate in Egypt’s troubled transition to democracy,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, who recently returned from Egypt and authored a report recommending steps the U.S. government can take to repair its relationship with Egyptian civil society groups. “U.S. officials should speak out to forcefully and publicly voice opposition to this draconian legislation.”
Dooley notes that various proposed versions of the new Egyptian legislation would suppress the fundamental freedoms necessary for the functioning of a healthy civil society. “Speaking out against the law is an opportunity for the United States to show that it is prepared to criticize President Morsi and stand with civil society,” Dooley added. “It would also demonstrate that U.S. interests in Egypt go beyond its own NGOs and beyond the particular interest of the ‘foreign funding’ case, where several U.S government-funded democracy groups were among a number of NGOs whose offices were raided in December 2011.”
Though several draft versions of the law are in circulation, the proposals include bringing all NGOs and their funds under government control, as well as subjecting their work to the approval of a committee that includes security services. Some activists are often wary of the U.S. government making statements on human rights abuses in Egypt, acknowledging that such statements can be counterproductive and be exploited by those who want to accuse the United States and other foreign powers of interfering in Egyptian domestic affairs. In this instance, however, human rights groups with whom we work in Egypt are urging the U.S. government to publicly decry the proposed law and call for its defeat.
“The United States should urge the adoption of a new NGO law that complies with international human rights standards and enables NGOs to receive financial support from sources independent of the government, including international sources. It should encourage the draft legislation proposed by 56 NGOs several months ago as the starting point for this process,” said Dooley.