As the first anniversary of President Morsi’s transition to power in Egypt draws closer, the 15 million signatures on a petition calling for his resignation loom large. Feted, then widely mocked, as the runner-up in Time's 2012 Person of the Year poll, his presidency being questioned by massive national protests scheduled for the end of this month. Egypt is expected to come to a halt with many expecting violence between Morsi supporters and the indefatigable pro-democracy movement. Throw in the possibility that thousands of Egypt's anarchic 'ultra' football fans and the thugs known as 'baltagaya' may join either side and these protests could turn out to be very nasty indeed.
There is a sense of anger among many at Morsi for belying the democratic ideals of the revolution. Civil society groups in particular are concerned. The conviction of 43 NGO workers, including 16 Americans, at the start of June for receiving foreign funds and operating without a licence, and the closure of Freedom House and other NGOs linked to the defendants, have sent jitters through the sector. Egypt’s activists and human rights researchers, forcibly muted under Mubarak, were an integral part of the revolution and have energetically created a space for research and discussion since his departure. They are now waiting to find out their fate, faced with a restrictive law currently with the Shura Council (Egypt’s senate) that may suffocate their existence.
Under this proposed law, a coordination committee will be put in place to determine issues relating to foreign funding. The committee will then need to give permission to groups before they can receive funds from overseas. It will include officials from the security and intelligence agencies as well as government ministries and civil society.
Those human rights organisations who have reported on the dark underbelly of the revolution, including torture, gang rapes and abuses by the Special Council of the Armed Forces, will be in a particularly difficult position. The committee will have absolute discretion to block access to foreign funding without a requirement to justify the decision. This gives the government arbitrary powers to extinguish projects with which it does not agree.
"We do not know what will happen to NGOs if the NGO law is passed", said Chaimaa Tayssir of Cairo-based Nazra for Feminist Studies, an organisation that has contributed substantial research into the rapes of women in Tahrir Square. "Funding for NGOs has traditionally come from outside Egypt since the Mubarak era. There is a sense that wealthy Egyptians giving to the NGO sector will be disadvantaged in future business deals if they give."
A whispering campaign in the media has also begun, seemingly attempting to portray NGOs in Egypt as spies or as recipients of money from western governments intent on destroying Egyptian culture. This is having a particular impact on organizations focusing on women’s rights, the interpretation of which is becoming an increasingly divisive topic in Egypt. Attacks on female protesters in Tahrir Square and the harassment of women on Egyptian streets seem to indicate resentment in some sectors towards women participating in public life.
The worsening safety for women in Egypt’s public spaces, breakdowns in the rule of law, crackdowns on cultural activity and recent reports of alleged police abuse under have seen the electorate turn away from the Muslim Brotherhood in droves. Twenty eight year old Mohammed El-Gindy was reportedly tortured to death by police after several days of protesting in Tahrir Square in January this year, while in the same month a video from the Associated Press surfaced showing protestor Hamarda Saber being beaten by riot police and dragged naked through the streets.
As Cairo residents and those in other major Egyptian cities prepare to take to the streets again, pro-democracy supporters say they are digging in their heels for the long game. Having overcome so much since it all began in January 2011, they are not going home now. Cairo activist Hicham Ezzat who has attended the protests from the beginning is reflective. "Thoughts of myself were transcended when I watched people next to me get shot and die in Tahrir. We fought for our human rights and Morsi has not respected them. We must now write a new page of Egyptian history, this time with an elected government that respects the human rights space the Egyptian people have fought so hard for."
Charlotte Allan is policy and advocacy officer for CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation