Restrictive laws and a culture of impunity have empowered Egyptian authorities to harass, detain, and charge civil society activists for dubious crimes for decades. Civil society activists are constantly at risk of asset freezes, online surveillance, prolonged and arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and travel bans. Harassment of civil society organizations (CSOs) receiving foreign funding is particularly severe. In 2013, for example, 43 foreign and Egyptian CSO workers were sentenced to prison terms of one to five years in Case 173, commonly referred to by the Egyptian media as the “case on foreign funding of civil society.” The government claims these measures protect national sovereignty and prevent money laundering and terrorism.
Since becoming president in 2014, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has broadened the government’s crackdown on political dissent by adopting laws that target civil society. In 2016, Egypt’s parliament passed the Law on Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work, which is highly punitive, violates Egypt’s constitution, and infringes on civil society’s right to access funding. The law imposes burdensome registration, approval, and reporting requirements on CSOs, and permits the government to dissolve organizations that fail to comply, contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Law also allows the government to sentence civil society activists to prison terms and fines as high as one million Egyptian Pounds (about $55,000). According to Hafez Abu Saada, Director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights: “It is very repressive and intimidates citizens to discourage them from participating in civil society and community work.”
Since its passage, civil society has produced a series of videos to educate the public on the role of civil society and to urge President el-Sisi and parliament to reconsider the Law. The Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies published videos entitled The Role of Civil Society and Development in Egypt; Free NGOs in Egypt; and MP’s Comment on the new NGO Law in Egypt. Similarly, Radio Horytna created a video on Case 173 and the importance of foreign funding to citizens. These videos explain the important role civil society plays in Egypt’s development; the importance of access to domestic and foreign resources; steps civil society takes to be transparent and accountable; and the problematic nature of the Law and threats CSOs and activists face in Egypt.
Egyptian security agencies are known to work through banks to monitor the financial transactions of CSOs and their employees, and sometimes impose asset freezes on accounts without due process. This practice violates both Egyptian law and the regulatory framework of almost all international financial institutions (IFI), the only exception being the Islamic Development Bank. Because IFIs hold shares in many banks around the world, CSOs and activists may consider using banks in which IFIs have invested. If an organization’s account is frozen in an IFI affiliated bank, the organization may seek support from the IFI to unfreeze the account. For example, an Egyptian CSO recently had its bank accounts frozen by the Egyptian government without due process. That organization is currently working with an international partner to notify the Office of Compliance Advisor at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which holds a 5% stake in the offending bank, and ask the IFC to pressure the bank to unfreeze the CSO’s accounts.
International treaties to which Egypt is a party: