Egypt: Cabinet extends deadline for NGOs to register or face dissolution

Egypt’s cabinet has agreed to extend the deadline for NGOs to register with the state or face dissolution, but a longer timeline does not fix the law’s many repressive elements

The Egyptian cabinet agreed yesterday, 19 January, to retroactively postpone by one year the deadline for civil society organizations to register with the state per the rules of the extremely restrictive 2019 NGO law.

The news comes after the Ministry of Social Solidarity revealed that only 28,000 civil society organizations—roughly half of the country’s total—had managed to submit completed requests by the January 11 deadline.

Despite the low level of participation so far, one National Council for Human Rights member, Said Abdel Hafez, claimed that the vast majority of civil society organizations trust the government, and he described their role as working alongside the state to pursue development goals. He criticized the 10 NGOs that he said are instead operating “according to their own desires.”

That seemed to be an implicit criticism of organizations like the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), which shut down last week after being told that to register under the NGO law, it would have to change its name and refrain from working on its core issues of freedom of expression and prison conditions.

ANHRI Executive Director Gamal Eid stated at the time, “We refuse to become an organization that works on unimportant issues, and we will not become a complicit organization or a GNGO (Governmental Non-Governmental Organization).”

Even those organizations that are still attempting to register under the NGO law are speaking out about the devastating impact it could have on their work, as POMED predicted in this fact sheet after the law was ratified.

Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) Executive Director Mohamed Abdel Salam, for instance, said that AFTE was attempting to reconcile its status despite the “very large obstacles” it expects to face in terms of resources and operations.

Abdel Salam noted that authorities will be able to withhold funding from or even dissolve any NGOs carrying out work of which they disapprove, while the security services will become the ultimate decision-maker on NGOs’ activities. The result, he said, is that “civil society organizations, especially those working in the framework of human rights and monitoring violations, will be present legally but unable to work on the ground due to restrictions imposed by the law.”

Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, another National Council for Human Rights member, countered that the fears of organizations like ANHRI and AFTE “stem from an old inheritance,” pleading with them to give the state a chance during the “year of civil society.”

Just a few weeks into 2022, though, the editor-in-chief of independent news site Darb has already been targeted simply for doing his job, and a court has upheld the prison sentence against human rights defender Amal Fathy for speaking up about sexual harassment.

French outlet Le Monde shared disturbing new details today about the release of activist Ramy Shaath earlier this month, including authorities’ demands that his daughter and sister also give up their Egyptian citizenship.

Shaath was forced to give up his own Egyptian citizenship as a condition of his release on January 8 after more than 900 days of unjust detention.

According to Le Monde, Shaath successfully resisted authorities’ demands for his sister and daughter to share his fate.

The newspaper also revealed that Shaath was told he was being released on December 26, but he was instead moved on that day to a windowless, overcrowded cell. While there, authorities informed him that he would be sent to Palestine, apparently under the understanding that Israel would prevent him from leaving the West Bank.

After beginning a hunger strike on January 4, Shaath was brought, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a room belonging to Egypt’s intelligence services, who abused him for two days. He was finally put on a plane to Amman, where Palestinian security officials received him and told him that he would be brought to Ramallah. It was only after a frantic international struggle that Shaath managed to instead make his way to Paris and be reunited with his family.