Court Upholds Closure of Women's Organization

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On May 7, 1992, an Egyptian administrative court decided to uphold last year's decree dissolving the Egyptian branch of the Arab Women's Solidarity Association (AWSA), a prominent women's rights organization. The court refused to grant an injunction that would have allowed AWSA to continue operating while it awaits the outcome an appeal on the merits of the government decree. After several delays, the three-judge State Council court rejected AWSA's request for an injunction, finding that the group had "violated the rule of law and public order and morality." Led by renowned writer and women's rights advocate Dr. Nawal el-Saadawi, AWSA -- through both its international organization and Egyptian branch -- has focused on the social and economic advancement of women and women's participation in political life. The administrative closure order by the Egyptian authorities continued the pattern of official harassment that AWSA has faced since its formation in 1982. The court ruled that AWSA's activities did not comply with "the general interests of the country" and "damaged relations between Egypt and some foreign and Arab-sister states." The court also found that AWSA's activities "threatened the peace and political and social order of the state by spreading ideas and beliefs offensive to the rule of Islamic sharia and the religion of Islam, a matter which forms a substantial violation of the law." In an interview with MEW last month, Dr. el-Saadawi described the ruling as "unjust," and promised continued legal appeals. The government's move to dissolve AWSA generated an international campaign of protest from human rights organizations and women's rights groups. In addition, numerous members of the U.S. Congress expressed their concern about the dissolution order to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. The case has focused attention on Egypt's Law No. 32 of 1964, the Law of Associations and Private Foundations, which grants the Ministry of Social Affairs wide powers of control over private citizens' organizations. Egyptian lawyers and human rights advocates view the AWSA case as an example of how the government can utilize the law of associations to muzzle dissent in Egypt. Saad el-Din Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian academic and human rights advocate, described the State Council Court's decision as a "warning that any non-governmental organization speaking out on public issues could be penalized by administrative decree."