Egypt: Abolishing the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid

A statement from the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (APHRA) on increasing pressures on civil society organizations.
"The ministry of social solidarity in Egypt issued a decree that abolishes the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid claiming that it committed financial transgressions. The ministry based its decree on item 2 of article 17 of law no. 84 published in 2002 for organizing NGOs that states that " … in all cases no NGO is permitted to receive money from abroad whether from Egyptian or foreign persons or agencies or their representatives in Egypt, or sending money to persons or organizations abroad unless they obtain the permission of the minister of social solidarity, except for books, newsletters and scientific and artistic journals."
The Arab Program for Human Rights Activists (APHRA) believes that the mentioned decree is legally baseless since the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, like other human rights organization, always applies to the ministry of social solidarity demanding its approval of the grants they receive from abroad. But the ministry is always either reluctant or objecting to give its permission for longer periods, which hinders human rights organizations from doing their work and continuing their activities, and which in turn endangers their existence and effectiveness.

APHRA also thinks that the decision of the ministry of social solidarity is mainly a political one that aims at punishing the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid for its activities in uncovering, monitoring and following up the torture crimes taking place in Egyptian police stations and in defending victims of torture in front of courts. Thus it was necessary for the ministry of social solidarity to punish this organization and to deliver a terrifying message to other organizations following this same method.

APHRA emphasizes the fact that the attitudes of Egyptian human rights organizations towards these stifling security decrees will considerably determine the policies of state authorities towards them. APHRA also has a number of observations regarding the decision:

1. The decision of the ministry that abolishes the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid coincides with a politically intense atmosphere in Egypt, as well as a number of cruel security procedures against some groups. Among these are the unprecedented rise in prices, the continuous arrest campaigns against the members of the Muslim brothers group with or without justifications, the continuous rumors concerning the health of the president of the republic, and the base elections of the ruling national democratic party and hiding its results until now. All these procedures by the ruling party confirm our suspicions of something bad arranged by state authorities. It seems that state authorities began emptying the Egyptian people and the political arena of all possible agents in preparation for certain acts or decisions that will affect all people!!!

2. The mentioned decree also coincides with the discourse about the modifications that the ministry of social solidarity intends to make in the NGOs' law, including permitting only the NGOs the law calls "association" or "organization". This means that similar abolition decrees are expected for other effective NGOs in the Egyptian human rights arena. The first and preparatory step for this turn was the abolition of the Syndicate Services House. Another reason the decision was the abolished association's efforts to modify the present NGOs' law. Given these events in which the ministry of social solidarity abrogates legally registered NGOs, it is not odd for this ministry to revoke organizations pressing to get rid of the present law for a freer and more democratic one.

3. The abolition decision that surprised the readers of Al-Masry Al-Youm (the Egyptian today) newspaper was first denied by the ministry of social solidarity and Cairo governorate, then published again on last Friday, and confirmed by the ministry on Saturday eighth of September 2007. The same was done when the ministry abolished the Syndicate Services House. This action line confirms the policy of the balloon test used by the ministry of social solidarity in dealing with civil society organizations. It also confirms the fact that there were no legal reasons for abolishing these NGOs and that these decisions are mainly political and security ones.

APHRA stresses that the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid won't be the last NGO to be abolished. It is just the beginning. In this threatening atmosphere, civil society organizations must mobilize their potentialities and join their forces to confront this fierce attack by the government aiming at emptying it of its effective agents. In addition to the legal struggle by Association for Human Rights Legal Aid, that we all support, we stress the necessity of keeping that association as an active part of the human rights movement in Egypt and preserving its activities if necessary with support from other Egyptian civil society and human rights organizations until the judiciary passes its sentence."

10 September 2007