Government Must End Role of Security Services in Policing NGOs
July 4, 2005
If people cannot form civil society organizations and run them without heavy state interference, the chances of developing a functioning democracy will shrink.
Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division at Human Rights Watch

Civil society groups in Egypt face severe restrictions under the law governing nongovernmental organizations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 45-page report, “Margins of Repression: State Limits on Nongovernmental Organization Activism,” discusses the impact of the law governing associations, Law 84/2002, which came into effect in June 2003. The report concludes that the most serious barrier to meaningful freedom of association in Egypt is the extra-legal role of the security services. Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases where the security services rejected NGO registrations, decided who could serve on NGO boards of directors, harassed NGO activists, and interfered with donations reaching the groups.

Although Law 84/2002 is an improvement over the previous law, its provisions—and the broad and arbitrary way it is applied—violate Egypt’s international legal obligations to uphold freedom of association. The law prohibits political and union-related activity, and allows the authorities to dissolve organizations by administrative order. It continues a host of intrusive administrative practices that stunt organizing by civil society groups, and provide ample means for state interference in their affairs.

“There is a difference between ensuring that civil society groups are accountable to the public and enhancing the state’s power to police and stifle the work of these groups,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt’s laws and practices fall squarely in the latter category.”

Human Rights Watch called on the government to amend Law 84/2002 to make NGO registration voluntary and abolish penalties for participating in unregistered NGOs. The authorities should also remove all restrictions on peaceful activities that amount to the exercise of freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom to participate in public life.

“Government regulations should help citizens to form groups, raise money, and carry out needed work,” Stork said. “If people cannot form civil society organizations and run them without heavy state interference, the chances of developing a functioning democracy will shrink.”

The Egyptian government has no legitimate interest in choosing who can sit on a board of directors, approving invitations to conferences, or reviewing minutes of meetings and deciding how often executive committees can meet, Human Rights Watch said.