Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signed into law a piece of legislation on Monday that implements severe restrictions on NGOs and human rights organizations operating in Egypt — a move, critics warn, that greatly expands the strongman’s ever-widening crackdown on public dissent.
The new law requires local and international nongovernmental organizations operating within Egypt to “agree with the state’s plan, development needs and priorities,” and to receive permission from a special regulatory committee before carrying out and publishing any studies or surveys. Groups found violating these rules could face a maximum of five years in prison and up to $55,000 in fines.
“This is an all-out attack on civil society,” Ahmed Benchemsi, Human Rights Watch’s communications and advocacy director for the Middle East & North Africa, told VICE News.
The law faced harsh international criticism when it was first drawn up and approved by Egypt’s Parliament in November 2016. At the time, Maina Kiai, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, said the law would “devastate the country’s civil society for generations to come and turn it into a government puppet.” And a month later, U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham released a statement criticizing the “draconian legislation,” saying that it would “starve independent Egyptian civil society of funding.”
Yet after months of waffling under international criticism, a newly emboldened Sisi, whom U.S. President Trump praised during his recent White House visit, finally enacted the controversial law — one which Mohamed Zaree, Egypt program director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told Reuters is “the worst in history.”
Since taking power through a military coup in 2013, Sisi, the former head of Egypt’s armed forces, has expanded his reach over nearly every aspect of Egyptian civil society. In his first year, Sisi detained, charged, or sentenced, at least 41,000 people, according to estimates compiled by Human Rights Watch. And just last week, Sisi blocked at least 21 news sites he deemed unfairly critical of his government, including Al Jazeera,The Huffington Post and Egyptian online newspaper Mada Masr. He has banned 24 human rights organizations from travel and frozen the assets of a handful of groups and individuals engaged in human rights work, according to Amnesty International.
“The Sisi regime has been cracking down on dissent in a very severe and general way since it came to power,” Benchemsi said.
In 2013, Sisi enacted anti-protest legislation, which required demonstrators to give at least three days warning for gatherings of over 10 people and enabled security forces to postpone the demonstration as they saw fit. At least 25 journalists continue to be detained in Egypt’s prisons and detention centers, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), making Egypt one of the worst countries on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index along with Turkey and China.
The new law will impact 47,000 local nongovernmental organizations operating in Egypt as well as the 100 foreign-funded groups — all of whom will have a year to comply with the new regulation or otherwise be dissolved.