Some of the fourteen Egyptian activists stand in a cage during the opening of their trial in Cairo

Posted by Middle East Voices via Freedom House (Remember, remember the 29th of December), by Nancy Okail:

“[A]s long as the legal and political environment remains hostile to NGOs…, Egypt will be deprived of the benefits of this essential pillar of democracy.” – Nancy Okail, Freedom House

Future of Egypt Civil Society in Jeopardy

 

… In December 2011, Egyptian authorities raided the offices of 11 human rights and democracy organizations… The raids came after an aggressive, months-long smear campaign in the Egyptian media against foreign NGOs. These attacks particularly targeted local and international human rights defenders, defaming their activities, casting doubt on their intentions, and accusing them of threatening national security…

 

… Although the case was ostensibly focused on the NGOs’ lack of legal registration and licensing, the nature of the staff interrogations was highly political…

 

… The crackdown was led by then minister of international cooperation Fayza Abul Naga, a holdover from the Mubarak regime. Her media statements as well as later testimony in court alluded to the organizations’ supposed threat to national security without providing a single piece of evidence. This lack of transparency continued to characterize the whole process…

Emphasis on “highly political” and “without providing a single piece of evidence.”

… But the gravity of this ordeal is not limited to the staff or organizations immediately affected by it. The legal case has had a severe chilling effect on Egypt’s civil society at a time when its functions – holding Egypt’s new rulers accountable and advocating for full human rights and democratic freedoms – are more important than ever…

 

… The success or failure of Egypt’s transition will have a significant effect on the rest of the Arab world, and the country’s current economic, social, and political challenges are all but overwhelming. No single political force will be able to handle these problems on its own. In the near term, elections for a new parliament will take place in two months, and a great deal of work needs to be done to guarantee a sound, free, and fair political contest. Civil society has a crucial role to play at this time and beyond. But as long as the legal and political environment remains hostile to NGOs and whatever international support they can muster, Egypt will be deprived of the benefits of this essential pillar of democracy.