Egypt Crackdown on Civil Society

Egypt’s civil society is shrinking under relentless government crackdown. A 2017 law regulating nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has ushered in unprecedented levels of repression and will criminalize the work of many NGOs, making it impossible for them to function independently.

Under persistent national and international pressure, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked for revision of the law in November 2018, but it’s unlikely that any revisions will respect the right to free association.

The information we have compiled here is part of a new Human Rights Watch project dedicated to defending Egyptian civil society. We will post all of our research and commentary   here about the latest developments affecting independent organizations and activists in Egypt.


Even before Egypt’s government issued its 2017 law, it had squeezed shut whatever limited space remained for independent organizations. The government has relentlessly been prosecuting scores of staff members of the country’s leading human rights organizations, typically by charging them with “receiving foreign funds.” The government banned more than 30 of the country’s leading human rights defenders from leaving the country and threatens to jail them at any moment.

The authorities have frozen the assets of seven leading human rights organizations and shut down others. The authorities have also dissolved over 2,000 charity organizations, confiscating their assets, on charges that they have links to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. This non-stop assault on non-governmental organizations and their staff has severely shrunk public sphere for what was once a vibrant civil society scene, even during the decades of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic presidency.

While al-Sisi’s government depends heavily on foreign aid from many governments such as the EU, the US, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, old and new laws make it nearly impossible for non-government organizations to obtain foreign funding. The staff of organizations that receive foreign funds risk prosecution that could lead to a life sentence.

Egyptian authorities should drop all existing criminal investigations into nongovernmental groups for doing their work and repeal the 2017 law in accordance with its domestic and international obligations to protect freedom of association.

Governments with ties to Egypt, particularly those that fund it, should speak up now to prevent the disappearance of independent, non-governmental groups.