Rights Groups Call for Transparent and Serious Dialogue with the Government

Press Release

18 November 2014

The undersigned organizations call on the Ministry of Social Solidarity to engage in a serious, transparent dialogue on the role of civil society organizations in Egypt and the government’s fears and apprehensions about these groups. Rights groups have nothing to hide or avoid in such a dialogue. We expect from government the same readiness to discuss matters related to high national interests, at the heart of which is the fundamental rights of Egyptians, as protected in the Egyptian constitution and Egypt’s international obligations.

This initiative comes following the latest statement from the Ministry of Social Solidarity on how it plans to deal with rights organizations, issued on November 11, 24 hours after the deadline for the registration of what the ministry called “entities engaging in civic work.” The ministry stated that it would consider groups on a case by cases basis depending on the nature of the group’s activity and its registration status. The ministry will then approach organizations to work towards registering them under the civic associations law (Law 84/2002).

The undersigned organizations do not believe that this resolves the crisis of freedom of association in Egypt. In fact, as long as the ministry will ultimately rely on a repressive law that is utterly incompatible with the 2014 constitution, Egypt’s international obligations, and international conventions, it only prolongs the crisis. The undersigned organizations confirm their support for a democratic and constitutional law to organize the monitoring of civic associations transparently and publicly.

The organizations’ request for a serious dialogue comes after Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review on November 5, during which tens of countries from around the world criticized Egypt’s human rights record and offered recommendations related to civil society and guarantees for the freedom to form civic associations. The government could have avoided this if it had complied with the recommendations submitted in the first UPR in 2010.

On more than one occasion, the undersigned organizations have demonstrated a willingness to discuss freedom of association with successive governments, the most recent being a meeting between Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and the director of the CIHRS on July 24. During that meeting, the latter submitted a memorandum signed by 23 rights groups demanding that the war on civil society end and the government reconsider its policy on NGOs.

After July 3, 2013, rights groups engaged in a six-month long dialogue with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, during the tenure of the former minister, Dr. Ahmed al-Borie, on the new NGO law. These talks ended with the drafting of a law—thus far the draft law that most closely conforms to international standards. Rights groups also met with ministers and other government officials to discuss the same topic.

Civil society organizations working on issues of rights, policies, and development, some working since the 1980s, hope that a dialogue with the govenment would lead to increased support for their work. They hope there will be increased support for not only its reporting of violations and shortcomings in the safeguarding of various political, economic, and social rights, but also support for its work in offering recommendations and policies to governments to improve human rights in Egypt. The most recent examples of the organizations working with the governments include the submission of detailed recommendations, during joint work with the relevant government officials, on health insurance issues and proposed national strategies to combat violence against women, in addition to other proposals they submitted to the 50-member committee that amended the 2013 constitution. The Egyptian Forum for Independent Human Rights Organizations – comprising of 19 organizations – also submitted 100 recommendations to the Egyptian government before the start of Egypt’s UPR at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The undersigned organizations are willing to engage in an institutional dialogue with the government, represented by the Ministry of Social Solidarity, on the development of civil society, the independence of civic associations, and issues related to the legal framework, administrative and security interference in NGO work, and how to animate Article 75 of the 2014 constitution, which upholds civic associations’ freedom of action. This dialogue could offer advice and practical suggestions to the government on how to deal with the recommendations accepted by Egypt in the second UPR which examined Egypt’s rights record by the UN; it could offer assistance to the government on how to deal with threats facing Egypt, which includes the rising dangers of terrorism; on best policies and services in health, education, and housing; and on the increased violations of Egyptian civil and political.

signed organizations:

1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

2. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

3. Arab Network for Human Rights Information

4. Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance

5. The New Woman Foundation

6. The Hesham Mobarak Law Center

7. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies

8. National group for human rights and law

9. Nazra for Feminist Studies

10. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement