Laws of Associations
Egypt's state of emergency, imposed by President Mubarak in 1981, poses some limits on the country’s associational life. The People's Assembly has approved on May 26, 2008 extending the state of emergency for another 2 years as of June 1, 2008 or until the anti-terrorism law is ratified, which ever comes first. The request for extension was submitted by the government upon a decision taken by President Husni Mubarak. A total of 305 deputies voted in favor of the decision while 103 deputies voted against it. Prime minister Ahmad Nazeef justified the government request by the need to confront the terrorist danger that threatens Egypt security, and by the need for further discussion of the anti-terrorism law in order to arrive at a balance between citizens rights and public safety. Bitter arguments occurred during the discussion of the report prepared by the parliament's general committee between deputies representing the ruling National Party and opposition deputies from the Muslim Brothers Group and some independent deputies who rejected the extension of the state of emergency and argued that it violates the constitution which stipulates that a state if emergency is declared only in the case of war or natural disaster.
On April 30, 2006, the People's Assembly voted to extend Egypt's state of emergency, imposed by President Mubarak in 1981, for two more years starting June 1, 2006. Egypt's prime minister, Dr. Ahmad Nazeef, said that the government used to extend the state of emergency for 3-year periods. He added that the government asked for 2-year extension this time because it is the period needed to issue anti-terrorism law and to implement its accompanying constitutional and legislative amendments, which were ratified by public referendum on March 26, 2007. A group of 111 deputies strongly protested against extending the state of emergency saying that there is no justification for such a decision. The Egyptian Movement for Change (Kifaya or Enough), formed at the end of 2004, also expressed opposition to the state of emergency. Kifaya's slogan of "No to extension, no to inheritance" also expressed its objection to President Mubarak’s assuming a new term in office and to the possibility of passing the presidency to his son Jamal, who is a leading figure in the ruling National Democratic Party.
Law No. 32 of 1964 Concerning Private Associations and Establishments, revised by the Law of Associations, Law No. 84 of 2002, regulates civil society organizations and their activities in Egypt. A previous version of the 2002 law, Law No. 153 of 1999, had been declared unconstitutional on procedural grounds. The revised law increased restrictions on NGO activity and fund-raising ability to the dismay of NGOs and the Egyptian opposition. The new law grants the Ministry of Social Affairs, and not the courts, the right to disband any NGO deemed to perform illegal activity. It also required all of Egypt’s 16,000 organizations to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs by June 2003. Significantly, the applications of some long established human rights organizations were rejected. In addition, NGOs are not allowed to take part in political or syndicate activities, a prohibition potentially subject to broad interpretation against human rights organizations. According to the general legal framework for NGOs in Egypt, organizations must serve the public’s interest, be formally registered, have internal regulations, and have a non-sacramental mission. Associations may not engage in political activities unless they are registered as political parties.
Article 5 of the Egyptian constitution and the Political Parties Law of 1977, amended in 2005, regulates political parties and their activities. Approved by a plebiscite, the 1977 law prohibits any propaganda directed against the principles of the socialist democratic system and the principles of the 1952 and 1971 revolutions. In June 2005 the Egyptian parliament introduced basic changes concerning the parties’ financial resources. Political parties could no longer be dissolved, or prevented from political practice by the "political parties committee." Such a decision now requires an investigation by the public socialist prosecutor proving that the political party in question has violated or gave up one of the general conditions that justify the formation or persistence of any political party. Despite a constitutional ban against religious-based parties, supplemented by the amendment to Article 5 passed in March 2007 prohibiting any political activity “based on religious ideology or foundation,” the Muslim Brotherhood constitutes a significant political force in Egyptian politics. The “Political Parties’ Affairs Committee” approved on May 24, 2007 an application by Dr. Osama Ghazali Harb, ex-member of the policies in the ruling “National Democratic Party” concerning the formation of a new (Liberal) “Democratic Front” Party. This approval raised the number of legitimate political parties in Egypt to 24. However, there are 35 other parties still waiting for judicial approval after their applications were rejected by the “Political Parties Committee”, in addition to 8 parties whose applications are still under revision by that Committee.
The “Political Parties’ Affairs Committee” approved on May 24, 2007 an application by Dr. Osama Ghazali Harb, ex-member of the policies in the ruling “National Democratic Party” concerning the formation of a new (Liberal) “Democratic Front” Party. This approval raised the number of legitimate political parties in Egypt to 24. However, there are 35 other parties still waiting for judicial approval after their applications were rejected by the “Political Parties Committee”, in addition to 8 parties whose applications are still under revision by that Committee.
Associations and Unions
The number of associations registered in Egypt increased from 7593 in 1976 to 22,000 in 1999, but are estimated as of 2003 to be roughly 16,000. These include business associations, professional groups, advocacy organizations, clubs, youth centers, and political parties, in addition to NGOs. The Federation of Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Egyptian Industries, and the Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) are important umbrella organizations.
The new Law on Associations, No. 84 of 2002 gives Egyptian authorities far-reaching controls over NGOs including human rights groups and their affiliated works. It restricts conditions on the management, operations and the finances of the NGOs; thereby controlling their relations at the international and local level. The UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration requires governments to create an environment in which NGOs can work without interference and harassment, but this is violated under the new law as organizations are required to obtain approval from the authorities. Egyptian authorities have yet to acknowledge the recommendations and reservations made by local and international human rights activists vis-à-vis the revised law.
Law No. 84 of 2002 also eliminates hard labor from the penal code, abolishes state security courts, and establishes a National Council for Human Rights to support and develop human rights in Egypt. The law grants the government new powers to refuse registration of a group or to shut down an existing one; to monitor and oversee an NGO's key activities, including foreign fundraising; and even to approve the selection of its board of directors.
In January 2003, the people's Assembly granted Egyptian workers the right to strike, for the first time. According to this decision, organizing strikes in non-strategic factories and firms became a legitimate action on condition that it gains the approval of two thirds of a syndicate's members following the failure of negotiations, mediation and arbitration with the employer. The strike statement should mention the cause of the strike and its duration. The Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Kamal Al-Shazili, declared that the government has agreed to consider the strike period as unpaid leave for the workers in order to protect them from arbitrary and unfair decisions by employers. However, opponents of the new ruling demonstrated in protest because they considered it to violate workers rights and give vast powers to employers, while restricting the right to strike.
In June 2003, the Ministry of Social Affairs rejected two NGO applications for registration. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders sent an open letter to President Mubarak expressing its concern and called for the amendment of the law governing NGOs and asked that the government respect its ratification for the rights and freedoms contained in the international covenants. Some groups urged the ministry to give a substantiated reason for its objection to the registration of an association.
Media and Government Regulations
The constitution prohibits the censorship of newspapers. However, in a state of emergency or in time of war a limited censorship may be imposed, and a semi-permanent state of emergency has been in effect almost continuously since 1967. A Supreme Press Council was created in 1980 to safeguard the freedom of the press, check government censorship, and look after the interest of journalists.