Some 14 more civil society organisations were shut down by the Ministry of Social Solidarity on Tuesday for links to members of the Muslim Brotherhood, local media reported.
The latest shutdowns now bring the total number closed down, since the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood began, to 434.
Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali issued the order to shut down the NGOs, including 10 in Minya, three in Beni Suef and one in Damietta, according to state-owned Al-Ahram’s website.
Organisations in Qena, Fayoum and Daqahleya will have their board of directors replaced in order for them to continue operations and deliver social services.
In September 2013, a Cairo court banned the Brotherhood’s activities and established a panel to confiscate the assets and property of Brotherhood-linked organisations. Later, in November of that year, Egypt outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood entirely, labelling it a terrorist organisation.
However, civil society organisations in general in Egypt have faced a crackdown on their freedom to operate under the presidency of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. The Ministry of Social Solidarity enforced legislation to require that every NGO registers under the ministry’s oversight, in a move that was seen by groups as an attempt to control public space and the freedom of association.
It is understood that this is the fifth time this year that NGOs have been dissolved for connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. In February, Wali issued a decision to dissolve 169 NGOs from nine governorates across Egypt, including Assiut, Sohag, Aswan, New Valley, Kafr El-Sheikh, Ismailia, Alexandria, Damietta and Qaliubiya.
“This is just part of an overall crackdown and a series of retaliatory measures taken by the regime. Most of these organisations are not even affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood at all; they were just helping the community,” Wafaa Al-Banna, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson told Daily News Egypt at the time. “This is very tragic for Egyptians who are struggling to provide for themselves.”
According to Al-Banna, these measures have large-scale negative effects on the communities that relied on these organisations for medical help, educational services, food and money.
“In Egypt, you don’t have social security, everything is done privately and by civil society,” Al-Banna said.
Law 84/2002 gives the Egyptian authorities the power to shut down, freeze assets, block funding, confiscate property, and reject the governing boards of any NGO.
Following the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) handed the Egyptian government 300 recommendations. At least 20 of them concerned the status of NGOs in Egypt. The recommendations called for a revision of the current law, to bring it in line with provisions set out in the constitution and “international norms”.
The ongoing action towards civil society organisations has seen many groups drop work, with the prominent Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) moving many staff members and programmes to Tunisia.
In September, a decree issued by President Al-Sisi banned local NGOs from receiving foreign funds for activity that could harm national interests. The law allows for life sentences for those ruled as using the funds to destabilise the country. Rights groups, however, see it as an affront to their work, as many of them rely on external money to operate.
Last Saturday, four staff members from the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), were arrested while conducting field research in an area of informal housing in Qaliubiya. A police force from the town of Khosous arrested the staff on Saturday on accusations of working without appropriate accreditation. They faced prosecution the following day and are currently released on bail.
In June, ECRF director Mohamed Lotfy had his passport confiscated and was prevented from travelling to Germany, where he was due to speak at a parliament discussion on the human rights situation in Egypt. The denial of travel by Egyptian authorities took place the same day President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi began an official visit to Germany.
Asked whether his work and the ECRF are being singled out amongst NGOs, Lotfy suggested that their experience is no different to other organisations: “It may be that we are being targeted, but you also have to look at the bigger picture of the treatment of NGOs and civil society across the country.”