Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Three Years Later: Egypt’s Rulers Compete to Violate Rights and Freedoms

This post was published originally on Horyetna Website

While today marks the third anniversary of the successful ouster of Mubarak, it also serves as a painful reminder of the failure to stop the violations of rights and freedoms in Egypt. After three years and two waves of uprisings, journalists are still jailed, media outlets shut, detainees tortured, vulnerable groups trafficked; peaceful protestors arrested arbitrarily, civil society organizations persecuted, civilians tried before  military courts… and  the list goes on and on. It is especially worrying to see that each Administration is so keen to break the record of its predecessor by committing more serious violations under nearly the same pretext; restoring security and maintaining stability.  

On 11th Feb 2011, Former Vice President and Former Spy Chief, Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had stepped down. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), backed by the people who chanted “the people and the army are one hand”, was all set to rule the country for a brief six month which miraculously extended to almost a year and half. Egyptians celebrated in the streets and squares then went home hopeful of a better future where their rights and freedoms are protected, respected and safeguarded by Egypt’s interim rulers. On March 9th, 2011, the same Egyptians who cheered for the military woke up to the bitter reality when the Military Police cracked down on a peaceful sit-in in Tahrir Square. Not only protestors were beaten, but also several were arrested. Detainees were tortured and women were subjected to the notorious dignity-stripping “virginity tests”.

A year later, when it was time to commemorate the first anniversary of Mubarak’s ouster, Egyptians were in no mood to celebrate. Too many people had been killed either by the Military or on its watch. The situation of freedoms and rights, particularly freedom of expression and assembly was worsening. 50 assaults on and detentions of journalists were reported by the Committee to Protest Journalists in November and December 2011 alone in a bid to stop them from reporting on the protests in Egypt. ” Reporters Without Borders ranked Egypt 166th in its press freedom index in 2011, a steep decline from 127th in 2010, because “the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ... dashed the hopes of democrats by continuing the Mubarak dictatorship’s practices.”[1] Moreover, sectarianism was on the rise and sexualized and gender based violence had become a tool used to intimidate women from taking part in the public sphere.


On 11th Feb 2013, the growing frustration and oppression of Egyptians under the deposed President, Muhammed Morsi gave them no reason to celebrate. They realized that the only noticeable change from 2011 to 2013 is the replacement of one dictator with an Islamist elected one.   The violations of rights and freedom took a new and more dangerous turn. By the end of 2012, Morsi’s government launched a fierce attack against independent media outlets that dared to criticize Morsi and his group, shutting down the privately-owned Dream TV. Muslim Brotherhood supporters filed legal actions against media personnel including the Egyptian Satirist Bassem Yousef and famous writer and editor Ibrahim Eissa, on allegations of “spreading wrong information”, “disrupting peace”, “insulting the President” and “insulting religion”. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reported at least 600 defamation lawsuits were initiated under Morsi’s rule.[2]   The Committee to Protect Journalist documented at least 78 assaults against journalist from August 2012 until June 30th.

In order to tighten his grip on power, Morsi seemed unbothered by recurrent human rights abuses committed by his allies and supporters, the frequent impunity due to absence of a proper transitional justice mechanism or the indictment of 43 innocent NGO workers.  While the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly worked on a new constitution, the Constitutional Court was besieged and assaulted by Muslim Brotherhood supporters to prevent it from ruling on the legality of the Constituent Assembly. Furthermore, the President’s constitutional declaration on November 21st, 2012 not only immunized himself against the judiciary but also undermined the very notion of the rule of law and accountability.  When people marched to protest Morsi’s power grab, his supporters attacked them and reportedly tortured them inside the Presidential palace.

To maintain the support he receives from his extremist Islamists, Morsi turned a blind eye to hate speech against Jews, Christians and Shiia. As a result, Copts were attacked in Khosous and Borj Al Arab  and were forced to leave their homes. Later in 2013, Four Shiia Muslims were lynched in Giza by an angry Islamist mob.

An entire year of fear, violence, military trials for civilians and restrictions of freedom of association and union led to Rebellion. One would expect a different trajectory towards rights and freedoms under the post-June 30th interim government, yet all the signs indicate the otherwise.

On Feb 11th, 2014, Egypt’s rulers have proved to be anything but different from their predecessors in dealing with rights and freedom. Since June 30th, the Egyptian authorities adopted a more security-oriented approach to systemically silence any opposition or critique.

A shameful record of violations committed by the interim authorities includes the shutting down of media outlets, prosecution of journalists, arbitrary arrest of peaceful protestors, excessive use of force to disperse protests, defamation campaign against NGOs and prominent activists, exclusion of representative groups from the political process, incitement and above all government-triggered polarization.

On one hand, Egyptians have realized that regardless of the form of regime, they all performed poorly on the rights and freedoms front. Driven by their sense of insecurity, many are willing not only to accept constrained freedoms but also to tolerate and sometimes justify flagrant infringement on fundamental rights. In this charged political  climate, the majority of Egyptians care less about human rights and more for stability and security, even if temporary.

The newly-adopted constitution provides a solid framework for rights and freedoms. Nonetheless, the Egyptian transitional authorities seem reluctant to put its provisions into effect. In December 2013, four Aljazeera journalists were arrested and charged with “attempting to weaken the state's status, harming the national interest of the country, disrupting national security, instilling fear among the people, damaging the public interest, and possession of communication, filming, broadcast, video transmission equipment without permit from the concerned authorities”. If the constitutional provisions were applied, they would’ve been acquitted on the same day. Now they together with another sixteen allegedly Aljazeera journalists are standing trial before the Criminal Court. One would expect the Egyptian public and media to condemn the jailing of journalists even if they disagree with their opinion since this is what freedoms of expression, media and opinion are all about. With few exceptions, many seemed unsympathetic with their ordeal.   

When people took to the streets on Jan 25th, “freedom” was their main demand. Forced to go back to the street again on June 30th, Egyptians reiterated their need for freedom. Watching the events unfold in Egypt, I become more concerned about the future of rights and freedoms amidst anger and vengeance.  It is evident that many Egyptians are growing more satisfied with the trigger-happy security apparatus so long the bullets hit the “other camp”. They are calling for and massively supporting a General, now Field Marshal, for President even though he represents the very institution that has blood on its hands. As I am giving up on the interim government to do the right thing, I am looking forward for the next one to  be less about national security and more about freedom, bread and social justice.

[1] Human Rights Watch - Egypt: A Year of Attacks on Freedom of Expression http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/11/egypt-year-attacks-free-expression
[2] CPJ: On the Divide: Press Freedom at Risk in Egypt, see https://cpj.org/reports/2013/08/on-divide-egypt-press-freedom-morsi.php

Monday, 30 September 2013

Will The Recent NGO Draft Law Unshackle Foreign NGOs in Egypt? Almost.. But Not There Yet!

Disclaimer: This analysis is based on the most recent version of the NGO draft law. Some provisions are still under discussion. 

The latest semi-final NGO draft Law begins with an ambitious mission statement explicitly describing the purpose of the Law as "encouraging the establishment of NGOs and supporting their participation in formulation, execution and monitoring of sustainable development plans, promotion of volunteerism and strengthening of democracy and governance." To my surprise, it reflects a positive paradigm shift in the government's approach towards Egyptian civil society and foreign NGOs (FNGOs) operating in Egypt. 

I was walking on air when I read the draft because it is nothing like its Muslim Brotherhood's predecessor. But it does not mean that the draft is not flawed. The devil is always always in the details. The bill is being drafted by a Task Force formed  by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and comprised of representatives from leading Egyptian NGOs and relevant government authorities.The current draft addresses most of the shortcomings of Law no. 84 of 2002 on NGOs that caused the catastrophic fiasco of shutting down 5 FNGOs and sentencing their Egyptian and foreign staff to prison; some with stay of execution; others without in what has become to be known as "The Foreign Funding Case - NGO Trial". 

Under this version of the NGO bill, foreign and Egyptian NGOs receive the same treatment in some aspects and different in others. At one point, the draft seems to unshackle the work and presence of foreign NGOs in Egypt; but to the expert eye, some clauses are ambiguous or general that may allow the authorities to stifle FNGOs. Following is detailed analysis of how Foreign NGOs are treated and potential consequences: 

FNGO Registration
The  Bill establishes a Higher Committee (HC), chaired by the Minister of Social Solidarity and with the membership of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. HC is mandated to process and approve/disapprove registration applications of FNGOs. A technical secretariat is to be established by a decree from the Minister of Social Solidarity to assist HC. The bill gives HC the right to "seek the advice of whomever it deems appropriate",  which implicitly opens the door for the involvement of security authorities. The draft law fails to describe who are the members sitting on the Technical Secretariat which could be anyone selected by MOSS for this matter. 

In order for FNGO to register a branch or a representative office, it must submit, to HC, a registration request supported by documentation. The Executive Regulations, to be issued by MOSS, will set forth what documents to attach to the application. 

Once the FNGO submits the application and supporting documents; it will receive a receipt confirming submission and establishing the date thereof. HC is mandated to respond within nonrenewable 60 days as of the date of submission to the request. Failure to do so, is deemed approval. After the lapse of the 60 days, the receipt will be considered a legal document whereby the FNGO can open a bank account. 

If HC rejects the application, the bill stipulates that reasons must be given and restricts them to "disruption of public security, order, health and morality". The bill even goes further than that by obligating HC to describe how the FNGO's activity will cause any of the aforementioned consequences. FNGO may challenge HC's rejection decision within 60 days and the court decides within 60 days as of the date of the first scheduled session. 

Article 90 of the Foreign NGO Chapter is attempting to ensure no arbitrary rejections are made based on unfounded claims like destabilizing the country, threatening national security or jeopardizing public morality.  

Accountability - Disclosure 
FNGOs are required under this bill to submit to MOSS the following:

  • Annual activity report.
  • Auditing Report (the bill does not specify whether it is annual or semi-annual...etc.)
  • Any reports or data requested by MOSS. 
This third item is problematic if is left as ambiguous and generic as it is now. Imagine a FNGO working with victims of police brutality, human trafficking or gender-based and sexualized violence, and MOSS requested disclosure of names of those victims as part of its "due diligence" process; what could be the result?! Those victims will possible be exposed to retaliation by their torturers and/or traffickers. It can also dissuade victims from interacting or seeking protection with FNGOs if they feel their personal data can be disclosed and their lives may be in danger. And this is only one example of what an ambiguous provision like this can lead to. 

FNGO Staff 
Egyptian staff working for FNGO will be subject to the Egyptian Labor Code. 

FNGO Branches and Offices

The bill allows ONLY registered FNGOs to rent and own offices without prejudice to other "relevant" laws. 


The issue of NGO funding, especially from foreign sources, has been a controversial one. However, this version of the NGO draft law seeks to establish a streamlined mechanism to encourage NGOs to solicit funding. It abolishes the ex-ante approval condition and replaces it with an ex-post disclosure. 
Foreign and Egyptian NGOs are allowed, under Article 19 of this bill, to receive funding, grants and endowments from natural or juridical persons; Egyptians or foreigners residing in Egypt. NGOs will be able to "accept and receive funding and grants from natural and juridical persons, Egyptians and non-resident foreigners". However, NGOs and FNGOs are required to notify MOSS within 30 days as of the date of receiving the funds in their bank accounts. MoSS has the right to object within the following 30 days by submitting an injunction to the competent court specifying the reasons for its objection. If MoSS fails to respond within the aforementioned 30 days, it will be deemed an implicit approval.
With regard to collection of donations from the public, NGOs must take a 1-year prior permission, renewable. 

The draft has only specified the type of activities that are not permitted for both Egyptian and foreign NGOs. It provided an exhaustive list of outlawed activities. NGOs are prohibited to undertake any of the following: 

  • Establish militant groups or organizations of military character.
  • Undertake for-profit activity whose purpose is not to develop or achieve the NGO’s purpose or such an activity that is not in compliance with the commercial controls to generate income to contribute in achieving a not-for-profit purpose. 
  • Take part in funding, support or promote electoral campaigns of any candidate running in the Presidential, parliamentary or municipal elections or party campaigning or provide financial support to political parties or their candidates or independent candidates or have a candidate running in any of the aforementioned elections in the name of the NGO.
  • Undertake any activity calling for sectarianism, inciting hatred or discriminates against citizens based on sex, origin, color, language, religion, doctrine, disability or others in contradiction with the Constitution and Law. 
Nonetheless, NGOs are allowed to express its views and positions with regard to public affairs-related issues.

This quick analysis for the potential impact of the latest NGO draft law is meant to give a perspective on the Interim Government's attitude towards the role of civil society. Although the draft has several positive aspects, it still needs further improvements. Ambiguity of some clauses may  cause misinterpretation or misunderstanding. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Egypt ... The Way Forward

Egypt… The Way Forward

Short and Medium Term Steps

Disclaimer: This is a  blue print  to initiate discussions. Read with an open mind.

Yesterday, Egypt witnessed one of the darkest and bloodiest days since the 90s. Official nationwide death toll is 700+. With more bodies  yet to be sent to Ministry of Health’s morgues for autopsy & count; the final number may significantly go higher. However, this piece is not intended to examine whose fault it was or reflect on Wednesday's violence.  I, firmly, believe that both sides; the Muslim Brotherhood and the Government;  share the responsibility and that both have blood on their hands. It is, rather, intended to explore steps, at the short and medium terms,  that different parties to the current conflict could take in order to stop the bloodshed and move forward with the constitutionally set-forth Roadmap.

With emotions  and frustrations aside, this is a modest  attempt to look objectively at what can be done to save this country from falling into the abyss of sectarianism and political tension.

All Parties to the Conflict should:

  • Immediately refrain from making any inflammatory statements and/or labeling "political opponents as infidels, traitors, agents...etc. 
  • Realize that reaching a compromise is the only solution. Negotiations this time must be a Non-Zero Sum Game. 
  • Acknowledge that all citizens enjoy the same rights and freedoms regardless of their gender, origin, religious views or political affiliations.

The Military

  • Stay on the fence and remain apolitical.
  • Eliminate terrorism in Sinai and maintain peace and security of Egypt’s territories.
  • Affirm that the Army will go back to its barricades and reiterate its commitment to the Roadmap. 

The Muslim Brotherhood Group

  • Abandon  the All-Or-Nothing – Us – or – the- chaos approach adopted thus far.
  • Immediately Renounce violence. 
  • Stop and/or condemn the hate speech and sectarian statements and assaults.
  • Acknowledge the fact that Morsi is not coming back. Yet, you have the right to advocate for his release and his free and fair trial on the grounds of charges leveled against him.
  • Decide if you want to be part of Egypt’s political system and future. If the answer is yes, ask your supporters to go home.  
  • Restore control over your members and supporters who may have taken part in  setting government agencies’ buildings ablaze, lynching police officers and shooting people randomly in the streets. Condemn and put a stop to such acts so it won't lead to prohibiting your existence and declare you a terrorist group.
  • Accept to sit at the negotiation table before it is too late. Only then you can partake in setting conditions to ensure elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.
  • Initiate your elections campaigning machine. If you think you still have the popular support you claim to have, you will not find it difficult to win the majority of parliament seats in an internationally-monitored free and fair elections.
  • Revisit and modernize your discourse and platforms. I would go further and say; review the foundations on which MB group is set up.

Ministry of Interior

  • Refrain from arbitrary arrests on the basis of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood Group or simply having a beard.
  • Admit the use of excessive force in dispersing Raba’a Sit-in. Follow the international standards for dispersing peaceful and non-peaceful assemblies. With every measure you adopt, know that human rights defender will be all over you. 
  • Secure your own police stations, government agencies and Coptic churches and properties.
  • Reform MOI. Train your men to “aim” before they “shoot” to minimize casualties. Human lives are precious and no innocent soul should be lost due to inefficiency or rage.
  • Be receptive to technical assistance provided by the competent international organizations to help you modernize and master your means of crowd control.
  • Adopt initiatives, in collaboration with community leaders, to reduce illegitimate arms ownership especially in Upper Egypt and eliminate potential retaliations.
  • Implement a more enhanced online and offline communication strategy to directly inform the public of MOI news, initiatives or even alerts.

The Government

  • Initiate and engage in a meaningful and true national reconciliation process.
  • Serve justice by holding any one  who perpetrated a crime from either side accountable under the law. It is the only way to avoid retaliations by families who had one or more of their members killed in the recent violent events.
  • Ensure the rule of law is established.
  • Immediately establish a fact finding committee (FFC) to: 
    • Investigate the Raba'a sit-in dispersing and determine what happened and what went wrong
    •     Provide an accurate count of those who were killed in action by security forces and those who had been killed and tortured by the sit-in protesters. 
    •     Solicit testimonies and documentation of the dispersal process from citizens, security forces, media and international and national non-government organizations. 
    •     Make the final report available to the public and use the gathered evidence to serve the purpose of transitional justice.   
  • Be realistic and stop being arrogant.
  • Reform economy and education as your top priorities.
  • Reaffirm commitment to the Roadmap and its timeline.
  • Set up immediately a mechanism for transitional justice to cover pre and post June 30th.
  • Acknowledge the fact that Freedom and Justice Party as well as other Islamist parties represent a significant portion of Egyptians and that their exclusion can never be the solution.
  • Achieve some quick wins where citizens can feel immediate improvement in their lives (e.g. improve traffic, reduce power outages, remove infringement on public spaces...etc.).
  • Be honest and candid with the public. Learn from the former regime’s mistakes. Transparency and accountability are the main ingredients to ensure a proper democratic process.
  • Strengthen the regulatory framework to safeguard freedom of association and expression and protect the right to peaceful assembly.  
  • Collaborate with national and international organizations as well as political parties and groups to identify alternative channels through which citizens can express their views. This being said, voicing discontent through peaceful assemblies must be protected by the state. 
  • Expedite the enactment of the new Elections Law that provides for an inclusive free and fair process.
  • Verify the accuracy of the voters lists.
  •  Demonstrate commitment to meet the Jan. 25th Revolution's demands: "Bread, Freedom and Social Justice". 

Other Political Parties 

  • Strengthen your internal organization and build your voter base.
  • Recognize the diversity of the Egyptian society and that the Islamist political parties represent a not-insignificant segment of the Egyptian population.
  • Promote and partake in serious national reconciliation efforts.
  • Begin preparations for the upcoming parliamentary elections. There is a LOT of work to be done if you really want to win a decent number of seats.
  • Merge, unite or ally whichever is easier and sooner.
  • Build the capacity of your young leadership. They are the present and the future.
  • Be realistic and embark on the realities of your constituencies.

The Media