OPED: Western leaders beginning to speak out against Egypt’s anti-NGO law
During the past year’s assault on Egypt’s civil society (reportedly 400 Non-Governmental Organizations under investigation) most Western leaders went silent after the controversial travel ban was lifted on the foreign NGO workers charged in the crackdown.
But as Egypt continues its downward spiral into chaos and economic decline, the West seems to be getting more vocal in their criticism of the past crackdown coupled with the devastating anti-NGO law being advocated by Minister of Social Affairs and Insurance Nagwa Hussein Khalil.
Germany led the way with German Chancellor Angela Merkel confronting Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi head on with the NGO issue a few weeks ago:
… The trip is vital, with Morsi hoping to obtain urgent funding. But he will face tough questioning from Chancellor Merkel.
Political foundations: Since the revolution, political foundations and non-government organizations operating in Egypt have found themselves in muddy waters. A new law bans organizations from accepting money from abroad. In 2012, charges were filed against employees of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a political think tank aligned with Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party. The charges included “illegal transfer of money.” Berlin is likely to push for clearly defined legal regulations for political foundations operating in Egypt.
… Democracy needs a healthy and active civil society. Non-Governmental Organizations are vital – not just political NGOs… I have met with NGOs focused on improving education, creating business opportunities, promoting dialogue between members of different religions, nurturing the spirit of entrepreneurship and offering opportunities for vocational training. These are just a small sample of what a thriving civil society can do for a country and its people, without unduly burdening the country’s treasury…
… Egypt needs a new NGO law that clarifies the role of civil society and more importantly defines a clear and simple process by which these organizations can register themselves and protects their rights. By adopting a law that is consistent with international norms for freedom of association, the Egyptian government can create a firm foundation on which civil society can flourish. And Egyptian organizations do not have to carry the burden alone. They can get help from other organizations in other countries. Egyptians can learn from the experience of others who have gone through their own political transitions. Your government should ensure that they too can register themselves in a timely and efficient manner…
… Now is the time to build up the political structures of the country. Egypt’s activists need to channel their courage and effort into creating political institutions – not merely legal structures, but true institutions that are widely respected by all elements of the society and restrain leaders or groups that might seek to impose their will. They must gather to form effective political parties, participate in the electoral process, and commit to the hard work of building grassroots support for their values. The people who will build Egypt’s future are the ones who are best at finding reasonable compromises and building national consensus.
Following Ambassador Patterson’s speech, US Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner offered this assessment yesterday:
… Posner said his visit focused on three key areas: The foundation of a sustainable democracy, upcoming parliamentary elections, and security…
… He acknowledged the Shura Council’s deliberations over a new set of laws regulating demonstrations and NGOs, and urged the Egyptian government to ensure that the laws governing these aspects respect international principles of free assemble and the importance of civil society.
“An important international principle is that NGOs, whether charity or advocacy organisations, are important for holding a government accountable and helping it succeed,” he said… Posner said it was important that Egypt welcome both domestic and international observers to witness the electoral process…
“Sustainable democracy is more than just elections. There needs to be rule of law, official accountability and transparency, rights of women, freedom of the press, and many other things.”
And what have we heard from leading members of the National Salvation Front about the Muslim Brotherhood’s anti-NGO law?