This is a well-known strategy applied by any regime facing a legitimacy crisis: to use fear to silence opposition and independent voices. Egypt is no exception, and it explains the weakness of the reactions to the attacks by Cairo on civil society, media and local organizations.
Today’s threat is the Islamic State. The regime’s message is that an iron fist is the only alternative to Islamic terrorism. Meanwhile, the Egyptian people, crushed by a brutal economic crisis and by the harshness of the repression, have failed to react.
The Egyptian bombs on Derna, Libya (which will continue, according to the Egyptian army spokesman, while anonymous sources told the New Arab agency that Egyptian special forces have been deployed in Libya in support of Khalifa Haftar), serve to entrench the impression of a concrete Islamic threat, which kills Copts and aims to expand to the rest of the country.
But the real threat is the state. On Tuesday, a law on nongovernmental organizations, approved by Parliament six months ago, was passed to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi for signing. This legislation places NGOs (local and foreign entities funded from abroad, the normal practice of subsistence in every corner of world) under the control of the executive power.
The NGOs will not be allowed to publish surveys and reports without the permission of the state. Donations over $550 must be approved by the government within 60 days. The state will decide on the incorporation of any new associations: A development plan will be drawn up, which will indicate the areas of activity and will authorize the creation of an organization, through the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Foreign NGOs will have to pay $16,500 and will be overseen by a new department of the secret service and the army. Those who violate the law will risk a sentence of one to five years in prison and $55,000 in fines.
The goal is clear: Shut up the organizations that in recent years have worked to monitor abuses and violations, create awareness, and protect the victims by keeping them under close surveillance.
Amnesty International protested right away. Najia Bounaim, head of Amnesty International in North Africa, declared: “It’s a catastrophic blow to human rights groups in Egypt. The severity of the restrictions imposed threatens to annihilate the NGOs in the country.”
Cairo defended itself saying the law is meant to protect the state from external interference, from “chaos.” In fact, the same crackdown is affecting NGOs, the press and opposition parties. In recent days, 21 news and information agencies have been blacked out by the government.
These include Al Jazeera and Huffington Post Arabic, the independent agency Masa Masr, the renowned newspaper Daily News Egypt and The Stock Exchange, one of the premier financial information agencies, run by young journalists. They all have been accused of being funded by Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, the enemies of stability in the country.
However, there are a few who’ve found new strength organizing attacks against the lonely man in command. After the arrest of Khaled Ali, human rights lawyer and founder of the leftist party Bread and Freedom, the six opposition parties have coalesced and chosen him as a presidential candidate in 2018 elections.
In a joint statement by his party, the People’s Alliance (left), the El Baradei Constitutional Party (liberal), Strong Egypt Party (Islamic reformist), April 6th movement (left) and the Revolutionary Socialists have announced support of Ali.
He was released on bail, but an enquiry has been opened against him for “insult to public decency.” The first hearing is scheduled for July.