Timeline of Egypt’s Escalating Campaign against Civil Society

Successive Egyptian regimes have sought to stifle independent civil society groups and movements, especially human rights and democracy organizations, using authoritarian laws and other forms of pressure.

President Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011) enacted harsh NGO laws and targeted selected civil society organizations and individuals. Under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in 2011-2012, the authorities launched notorious Case 173 against a large number of NGOs for alleged “illegal” funding and activities, raided the offices of several Egyptian and foreign pro-democracy organizations, instigated an intense media campaign against the NGO sector, and put on trial 43 employees of five American and German democracy organizations working in the country.  During the elected government of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (2012-2013), these NGO workers were convicted on criminal charges in a deeply flawed trial and their organizations banned from the country.

But since the military ousted Morsi in July 2013, and especially since summer 2014, the situation for civil society organizations has become far worse. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who as defense minister led Morsi’s ouster, has overseen an unprecedented campaign of repression against the indigenous human rights community and other independent civil society groups–a crackdown that threatens their very existence. In addition to shuttering scores of Brotherhood-affiliated charities, the Sisi government has re-opened Case 173, pursuing criminal investigations against dozens of human rights defenders. Members of these groups now face incessant interrogations, asset freezes, arrests or prolonged detention, travel bans, threats and harassments, and intimidation as part of a campaign that ultimately seeks to crush these voices for justice and accountability.

These repressive measures violate Egypt’s 2014 constitution, its international human rights commitments, and global democratic norms. But so far Sisi’s campaign has been met only with occasional mild international criticism. Human rights organizations are vital for monitoring and documenting abuses by the state, for defending victims of injustice, and for promoting accountability and democratic values. An independent civil society is essential to a healthy, tolerant, and peaceful society.

As leading Egyptian human rights defender Gamal Eid wrote in the New York Times in April 2016, “We know that without the mediating role of independent civic institutions, ordinary social tension can easily escalate into nationwide conflict. The powerful can manipulate routine differences between communities, ethnic groups and social classes into a politics of brute force. When that happens in a country under authoritarian rule, the entire public sphere is transformed into a zero-sum game between those wielding near-absolute power and those whose basic rights are in jeopardy.”

POMED has created the timeline below identifying key actions in Egypt’s escalating campaign against civil society and human rights defenders.  We will update the timeline regularly to reflect the latest developments.