SCAF’s assault on Egypt’s civil society

Stephen McInerney writes:

Civil society is an essential component of any democracy and it will be a key factor in determining the success of the democratic transitions now underway in the Middle East and North Africa. In his May 19 speech, President Barak Obama identified “a vibrant civil society” as one of four areas in which Egypt and Tunisia should set a strong example for the region. Speaking to a global forum in Sweden last month, Secretary Hillary Clinton described civil society as “a force for progress around the world,” while noting that “in too many places, governments are treating civil society activists as adversaries, rather than partners.” Sadly, nowhere is that now more true than in Egypt, where the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has steadily escalated a campaign against this community which is even more repressive than during the Mubarak era.

Unlike neighboring Libya and Tunisia, in which civil society was almost nonexistent prior to the revolutions of this year, Egypt has thousands of longstanding civil society organizations. Under Mubarak, the vast majority of these groups avoided any political issues, human rights concerns, or criticism of the Mubarak regime, instead focusing on issues such as health, education, and family welfare. The small subset of these groups that dared to work on political issues or human rights abuses were often the target of government harassment, interference, and intimidation. In the weeks following Mubarak’s fall, Egyptian NGOs were eager to play a broader role and to help guide the political processes during Egypt’s transition. Unfortunately, frustration set in quickly as the SCAF appeared to entirely ignore the views of civil society in its decision-making process. Tensions grew throughout the spring as the SCAF continued to ignore the demands and recommendations of civil society actors and increasingly sought to undermine their reputation with the Egyptian public, primarily through stories in the state-run media implying that Egyptian NGOs are working on behalf of foreign agendas.

In recent months, the SCAF has dramatically escalated these attacks on civil society. On July 12, Minister of International Cooperation Faiza Abul-Naga announced that the government would establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the funding of civil society organizations. Only two weeks later, state-owned October magazine ran a cover story — illustrated with a crude depiction of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson burning Tahrir Square with flaming U.S. dollars — that accused the United States of undermining Egypt’s revolution by funding civil society organizations.

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One thought on “SCAF’s assault on Egypt’s civil society

  1. Ian Arbuckle

    Does anybody in Egypt not know that the US funds the Egyptian Army and Israel pull their strings. Mr. Minister does not even have to investigate to know that.

    I’m pretty sure despite the paid propaganda most Egyptians have little doubt that it’s not the civil society that is the problem, just the army goons trained at the School of the Americas and their CIA handlers, plus Anne Patterson and her Zionist friends in Tel Aviv. The Egyptian army has always been the pivotal centre of power, but quite frankly an urgent “purge” in the laxative sense is highly recommended before the next elections if anything resembling free and fair is even hoped for. And yes by all means get rid of : “Washington-based organizations that work to support democracy worldwide: the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and Freedom House. ” … support democracy just like they did in Venezuela???

    The US has gone beyond pathetic

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