The undersigned human rights organizations express their deep concern regarding the Cabinet of Ministers' approval of the Bill on Associations and Private Institutions.
The Bill places enormous restrictions on NGO and voluntary work in Egypt. It gives the Executive Branch control over the activities, membership, and funding of associations, and ignores repeated criticism put forward by development associations and human rights organizations.
This Bill is the latest in a series of restrictive measures carried out by the government that have left most professional syndicates paralysed (Law 100/1993), confined political parties to their premises, and deprived them of the right to undertake any public activities (Law 40/1977). Journalists have also not been spared: after their struggle to repeal Law 93/1995, the past year has witnessed the imprisonment of four journalists for the first time since 1952, the closure of independent newspapers, bans on printing some newspapers and magazines, and the right to publish newspapers has been further restricted by Law 3/1998, requiring the Cabinet of Ministers' approval for any new licenses. The Emergency Law, in force since October 1981, has in practice become a new constitution.
Furthermore, the Bill will be voted on by a parliament that is impossible to consider legitimate. The present parliament came to power through the worst elections ever held in the modern history of Egypt: the court of Cassation reports on the irregularities of those elections provide only one of the many proofs of this.
The Bill, when placed in the current political context, is merely a reflection of the government's general intention to restrict further any form of independent association, be it political parties, unions, professional syndicates, or NGOs.
The undersigned organizations call on the President of the Republic, in his capacity as the head of the Executive Branch, and the leader of the ruling party that controls over 90 percent of the People's Assembly, to start his fourth term in office with a declaration of democratic reforms. Furthermore, the undersigned organizations call on the President of the Republic to consider immediately the following:
- Lifting the State of Emergency
- Halting all procedural and legal restrictions that have resulted in professional syndicates effectively becoming paralysed
- Halting the use of custodial penalties in cases involving journalists accused of libel and defamation, and other offences related to their work, and the drafting of new press laws to replace the current ones, with the assistance of the Journalists Syndicate
- Removing all obstacles facing the activities of political parties, and allowing the establishment of new political parties
- Instructing the Ministry of the Interior to stop the use of torture immediately, and ordering the Prosecutor General to investigate independently all torture allegations and bring those involved in such criminal activities to a speedy trial
- Reconsidering the expected inauguration of the Bill on Associations and Private Institutions, and open a discussion that considers different proposals put forward by civil society and human rights organizations.
We call on parties, syndicates, associations, and citizens to work together for a better tomorrow; for free and fair elections; for the rule of Law; for the accountability of those in power; and for a state that respects the rights and freedoms of its people.
Cairo Institutte for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA)
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
Group for Democratic Development (GDD)