Zarea: I’d rather close than submit to civil society law
Mohamed Zarea - YOUM7/Sami Waheeb

CAIRO: Head of the Arab Penal Reform Organization Mohamed Zarea said he would not violate the controversial civil society law , and is choosing instead to close rather than “be oppressed under it.”

Zarea told The Cairo Post the close was a “temporarily halt,” as he waits for the results of the government’s recent bid to contain the crisis by meeting with organizations.

Egyptian independent NGOs were given a deadline of Nov. 10 to register under the 2002 law for civil society, that many worry would turn NGOs to quasi-government bodies. Consequently, a number of organizations announced closing their activities, in Egypt during the past days, even before the deadline, and fears controlled others who are threatened by the same fate.

The ministry’s anticipated meetings with the NGOs are meant to decide which organizations are legitimate and which are illegal; Zarea said that “if my organization is said to have a problem, I will permanently close it. There is no way to convert my organization to a civil association.”

The government has previously said the law has “problems” and subsequently started drafting another one.

The rapid procedures taken by the government to register the organizations under the 2002 law were met by fears of increased restrictions on the work of civil societies in Egypt, as many complained “the law impedes the right to establish civil organizations as stipulated in the constitution,” Zarea said.

“I operate a law firm to provide legal assistance inside and outside Egypt. How can I work as a civil association bound under the government?” added Zarea.

Under the 2002 law, a constitutional committee will be established and is believed to interfere in the work of the independent NGOs as well as their funding.

“Many organizations already registered under the law and they are now about to close, as many of them have had their requested funding delayed for months,” said Dalia Ziyada, the executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center to The Cairo Post.

Ziyada added that civil society in Egypt is already facing challenges regarding their work, and that “the media has contributed for the past two years in the current crisis by defaming and accusing civil society of attempting to destroy the country.”

The Ibn Khaldun Center, although one of the large human rights organizations, has faced problems in receiving funds from some U.S. organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy, after the center supported the July 3 ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi.

“Civil society is suffocating and organizations are paralyzed under these threats. Many are closing their activities and others are afraid to start new ones as the accusations are now linked to espionage and treason,” commented Ziyada.

Closure is only one side of a mounted crackdown against NGOs, as a new amendment to the Penal Code believed too “broad and restrictive” was passed in September to punish with jail time and fine organizations receiving or requesting funds or weapons from a foreign country or organization.

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