Thursday, December 29, 2011

Egypt raids on NGOs hint at wider crackdown

Even charitable work can be a sensitive matter in Arab regimes if it highlights the state's failure to provide basic services

Brian Whitaker, Thursday 29 December 2011

"Arab regimes have always been wary of civil society organisations. A flourishing civil society promotes active citizenship, undermining the idea that the ruling elites know best. Even charitable work, unthreatening and apolitical as it might seem, can be a sensitive matter if it highlights the state's failure to provide basic services.

For that reason, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Arab countries – if they are allowed at all – usually need a government permit. In Egypt, a complex legal framework minutely regulates their activities, management and finances, making it easy to harass or close them down on some technicality if the authorities take a dislike to them.

One Egyptian NGO, the Nadim centre, which provides medical and other support for victims of torture, was raided a few years ago and threatened with prosecution on a host of charges, including possession of a questionnaire about torture and books about human rights, without a permit. After a public outcry, the list was reduced to just two alleged violations: not having a first-aid kit or a fire extinguisher (both of which were on the premises at the time).....

Though occasional raids cause little surprise, the simultaneous raids on several organisations on Thursday are very unusual and suggest a concerted attempt to crack down on them...."

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