Egypt

The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) launched a book on the enabling environment of civil society in the Arab region. The publication aims to present an overview of the current situation of civil society organizations in Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine. It uses several country-specific indicators regarding the establishment of civil society organizations and their success. The current conflicts raging in the Arab region constitutes a serious challenge, especially in lack of attention to laws regarding the work of civil associations, in addition to the shifts faced in funding.

The publication highlights several legal challenges, especially those resulting from the lack of commitment to the principles of the separation of powers, as applied by democratic societies, as laws and regulations are often politicized. The book includes several recommendations to invigorate the work of civil society organizations in the regional, in order to consolidate the values of justice, equality, and sustainable development.

Following 8 days involving 43 Voluntary National reviews (VNR) and 147 side events with 77 ministry-level participations and 2458 registered stakeholder representatives, the statistical outlook of the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals is quite promising. It is only the second review and just two years after the kick-off for the implementation of a universal agenda towards leaving no-one behind. Yet, time is marching on and there is a long way to go on the level of implementation.

At the 2017 HLPF, Jordan became the third country from the Arab region to participate in the VNR process; following Egypt and Morocco in the 2016 review. The first words of Jordan’s national report made reference to the same issues: ‘the power of working together’ and taking into consideration ‘the urgent world issues’.

“Informal labor is not a marginal issue in Arab countries. It is a core component of modern Arab economies and the distribution of work therein and is doomed to expand under current policies,” explained Samir Aita, lead researcher of the Arab NGO Network on Development (ANND) at the launch of the 2017 edition of the Arab Watch on Economic and Social Rights, last May 8 in Beirut.

The report, launched publicly at the American University, concludes that the “highest percentages of lack of formality are in countries with the least strict laws and bureaucracies, and vice versa. This goes against the stereotype that says that informality is a result of strict laws and bureaucracies.” It also concludes that “informal labor in Arab countries is mostly waged labor, except in rare cases, which contradicts another idea that says that informal labor is a choice, as young people entering the job market have no choice but to find any type of livelihood, no matter how fragile or temporary.”

In the framework of its critical engagement in the 2030 Agenda, ANND launched an effort to document national programs for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and socio-economic reform initiatives in the Arab region. This effort takes the form of national assessment reports and seeks to check if such implementation is made within a comprehensive rights-based development strategy, adopted with an inclusive, participatory and transparent approach.

The assessment reports link between monitoring and evaluation by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) of the implementation of Agenda 2030 and other similar human rights monitoring mechanisms. They shed light on the necessity to adopt an inclusive social dialogue for policy making at the national level. With the limited resources available, the reports shall be made on a few countries (namely Jordan, Egypt and Morocco) and shall focus on 3 SDGs only:

On November 29, 2016, the Egyptian parliament approved the draft law regulating the activity of civil organizations and institutions submitted by MP Abdul Hadi al-Qasabi on September 6, 2016.

This was tantamount to a declaration of war on civil society and an attempt to crack down on all active and supportive human rights organizations.

For more than 20 years now, the state has been committing a number of practices aimed to suppress and restrict these organizations and their members, but the recent parliament decision surpassed all previous practices.

Following the adoption of the draconian associations law in Egypt, six Political parties and 22 civil society organizations issued a joint statement to condemn and reject the proposed law. The groups noted that the new law effectively eradicates civil society and defers its administration to the government and security apparatus. They condemned parliament’s treatment of civil society as an enemy to be defeated through secret laws. In the statement, they reiterated that the state has already taken real steps to eliminate Egyptian civil society organizations by prosecuting case no. 173/2011 on foreign funding, and several organizations and their current and former directors have been banned from travel and have had their assets frozen. This new law, however, would pave the way for the eradication of any sort of civic action geared to development, charitable activities, and services. The operation of local development associations throughout Egyptian villages and hamlets, which provide services to local residents, will become nearly impossible.

Constitutional Assembly
(Photo: ANHRI)

The defining feature of the framework for Egypt's national sustainable developmental strategy is the lack of a detailed roadmap to achieve several key goals, especially reducing poverty and unemployment and tackling the informal sector, for which it also lacks indicators. This is in addition to the lack of clarity in implementation mechanisms and the lack of consistency among the goals, despite the overarching strategy. The indicators used to measure the goals reflect the Government's continuation of the neoliberal approach, which is contingent on the development of the private sector and dependent on it to finance the development goals. Thus, for example, to reduce the deficit, the strategy does not include raising taxes on companies, instead opting to tax consumers, such as with the 10 percent value added tax (VAT). In addition, the strategy differs in important ways from previous development strategies, none of which were discussed in Parliament or through any sort of social dialogue.

The defining feature of the framework for Egypt’s national sustainable developmental strategy is the lack of a detailed roadmap to achieve several key goals, especially reducing poverty and unemployment and tackling the informal sector, for which it also lacks indicators. This is in addition to the lack of clarity in implementation mechanisms and the lack of consistency among the goals, despite the overarching strategy. The indicators used to measure the goals reflect the Government’s continuation of the neoliberal approach, which is contingent on the development of the private sector and dependent on it to finance the development goals. Thus, for example, to reduce the deficit, the strategy does not include raising taxes on companies, instead opting to tax consumers, such as with the 10 percent value added tax (VAT). In addition, the strategy differs in important ways from previous development strategies, none of which were discussed in Parliament or through any sort of social dialogue. This report examines key economic, social and environmental dimensions of the implementation framework and includes recommendations for needed changes if it is to be successful.

The arbitrary detention of Hossam Bahgat, (the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an  independent  Egyptian  human  rights  organization  and  a  journalist at Mada Masr, an online news site), on November 9th, 2015 is a mere reflection of the crackdown on civil rights in Egypt and the grim truth about the restricted enjoyment of the ‘’freedom’’ of expression and opinion in the country, that is essentially guaranteed by the Egyptian Constitution Article 651 and Article 19th of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that Egypt is party to.

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