By Markus Symank via Qantara.de:

The Egyptian government hopes to restrict the work of non-government organisations by means of a new law. Activists are up in arms, while the opposition has been remarkably quiet on the subject…

… “Restrictive”, “oppressive”, “worse than under Mubarak”: critics of the Egyptian government have found sharp words for a draft bill to regulate relations between the state and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

 

… “A free and democratic state cannot survive without NGOs,” says Robert Becker, an American formerly employed by the National Democratic Institute and one of 43 defendants in a court case against foreign foundations in Egypt. NGOs are a fundamental element of every democracy, he says, and anyone who restricts their work also silences the people.

 

… The draft bill presented by the Islamist government has confounded hopes for a more relaxed approach. Its rulings include a ban on any form of political participation for the approximately 41,000 NGOs in Egypt. If the law is passed, studies, surveys or field research would only be allowed with permission from the relevant government offices. One vaguely formulated article also dictates that NGOs would have to refrain from all activities that present a risk to “national unity” or violate “public morals”.

 

… It is not without irony that a bill as restrictive as this comes from an organisation with no legal status of its own. Even two years after the revolution, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has not yet been officially registered. The Islamists protect their donation channels and membership figures like a state secret.

"The Islamists are ignoring the 'non' in non-government organisation," Becker criticises. Transparency is important, he says, but the state should not be allowed to intervene in every aspect. "The new government is displaying the same bunker mentality as Hosni Mubarak's regime. It doesn't understand civil society as strengthening democracy, but as a risk to its own rule."

“The Islamists are ignoring the ‘non’ in non-government organisation,” Becker criticises. Transparency is important… but the state should not be allowed to intervene in every aspect. “The new government is displaying the same bunker mentality as Hosni Mubarak’s regime. It doesn’t understand civil society as strengthening democracy, but as a risk to its own rule.”

Silence from the opposition

 … Should the bill be passed before the first stage of the parliamentary election on 22 April, it could have a knock-on effect on the ballot’s transparency. It would become difficult for both Egyptian and foreign election observers to register. At December’s constitutional referendum, the number of election observers fell to the lowest level since the revolution.

 

… [civil society] cannot count on the support of the leading opposition alliance, the National Salvation Front. As Robert Becker criticises, the alliance has been surprisingly silent on the controversial bill to date: “NGOs are the natural allies of the opposition. This silence from the left and the liberals is incomprehensible.”