President Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear President Obama:

We write today to urge more robust engagement by your administration on the Egyptian government’s current efforts to target independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and likely shut down organizations that do not register under a highly restrictive 2002 law. By all accounts, this effort may well end most independent civil society work in the country.

As you may know, the 2002 Law on Associations empowers the 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. The law clearly violates international freedom of association standards.

The last 18 months in Egypt have seen increased repression of civil society, as well as deeply concerning attempts to criminalize free speech and peaceful assembly. The situation for NGOs has become particularly urgent because the government has announced its intention to force them to register by November 10 or face legal consequences. Many of the Egyptian associations with whom we regularly collaborate have no objection to a registration requirement; a great number are, in fact, already registered as civil companies and law firms. But given the draconian restrictions embodied in this law, they have long refused to register as NGOs due to the concern that doing so will undermine their ability to function independently and fulfill their mandates.

You are likely aware that up 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. We fear that the Egyptian government’s enforcement of the law’s severe provisions will be even worse than its actions in 2011, when the government investigated a host of NGOs who received foreign funding and ultimately convicted staff from international organizations – including Freedom House, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and the International Center for Journalists – for allegedly operating without authorization despite their repeated attempts to become registered.

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. Instead, we urge you to make good on your recently stated commitment “to stand with the courageous citizens and brave civil society groups who are working for equality and opportunity and justice and human dignity all over the world” and make clear the consequences of enforcing such a restrictive law are a central concern for the USEgypt bilateral partnership.

We thank you in advance for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

Sarah Margon

Washington Director

Human Rights Watch

 

Elliott Abrams

Deputy National Security Advisor, Global Democracy Strategy (2005-2009)

White House

 

Joyce Barnathan

President

International Center for Journalists

 

Charles Dunne

Director, Middle East and North Africa programs

Freedom House

 

Michele Dunne*

Senior Associate, Middle East Program

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

 

Christopher J. Griffin

Executive Director

Foreign Policy Initiative

 

Neil Hicks

Director, Human Rights Promotion

Human Rights First

 

Margaret Huang

Deputy Executive Director, Campaigns and Programs

Amnesty International USA

 

Peter Mandaville*

Director of the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies

George Mason University

 

Stephen McInerney

Executive Director

Project on Middle East Democracy

 

Joel Simon

Executive Director

Committee to Protect Journalists

 

Please note that names with an asterisk represent the individual, not the organization.