Since Sisi’s election in 2014, Egyptian authorities have initiated many efforts to regulate the civil society. First, the state media’s campaign against civil society that claimed the NGOs as allies with terrorists or working on behalf of foreign powers to divide the country along sectarian lines
In September 2014, the Egyptian government issued an amendment to Article 78 of the penal code that banned the receipt of foreign funding for any activity deemed harmful to “national interests” or “compromising national unity” and imposed life sentences for noncompliance. The vague definition of these activities was used to target any foreign-funded civil society organization, thereby essentially voiding their right to receive foreign funding. Under this amendment, human rights defenders who had made it their primary task to defend those wrongfully accused of violent extremism and to document state abuses committed in the name of counter-terrorism, were prosecuted.
Therefore, a systematic repression mechanism against civil society has taken shape, consisting of the stifling of NGO operations through bureaucratic hurdles and delays, funding restrictions, raids and interrogations, asset freezes, travel bans, digital attacks, and—in the most extreme cases—office closures and criminal charges.
On May 2017, President El-Sisi issued a new law that regulates non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Under Law No. 70 of 2017 for Regulating the Work of Associations and Other Institutions Working in the Field of Civil Work, the civil society and human defenders work is prohibited and criminalized and power is given to an authority body created under this law (The National Authority for the Regulation of Foreign Non-governmental Organizations is created and includes representatives of Egypt’s top national security bodies – the General Intelligence Directorate and the Defense and Interior Ministries – as well as representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Central Bank of Egypt) to interfere in every aspect of nongovernmental organizations’ (NGOs) existence, administration and activities, and to oversee the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including any funding or cooperation between Egyptian associations and any foreign entity.
This law contravenes Egypt’s commitment to international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that no restrictions may be placed on the right to free association as well as the Egyptian Constitution that guarantees in Article 75 “the right of citizens to form civil associations and their related rights and other public freedoms are all constitutional foundations”.
In addition to Law No. 70 of 2017, Egypt’s parliament preliminary approved the cyber-crime draft law on May 14, 2018. The draft “Anti-Cyber and Information. Technology Crimes Law” primarily targets the illegal use of private data and other crimes that can take place online, but some of its provisions use broad terminology that could be used to penalize lawful online expression and shutter independent media outlets. Accordingly, under the Law No. 70 of 2017 it is a crime to offend many laws that are at the base of human rights violations in Egypt, like the new law of May 14, 2018, and to advocate for human rights and development in Egypt. As a result, this law does just that, crippling civil society for years to come.
On October 9, 2018, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signaled at the World Youth Forum that he would be willing to review a controversial law that restricts nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). On November 17, Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly issued a decision to form a committee led by Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali to amend Law No. 70 of 2017 for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations.
No independent non-governmental organizations (NGO) has been invited to the dialogues rounds and meetings held to amend the law, as well as none of opposing or dissenting parties. In addition to that, all the prosecuted local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are still under criminal investigations.
This fact raises skepticism in the seriousness of the Egyptian regime in making amendments that affects the essence of the law and that stops the repression and restriction over Egyptian civil society. Moreover, many Human rights defenders consider that this verdict is completely political, and it is an effort to mute international and domestic criticism, and to meant to decriminalize the work of civil society in Egypt.
In response to that, “Unmask them” campaign came to light. “Unmask them” is a human rights campaign dedicated to defending and advocate rights of Egyptians, and that calls upon the Egyptian government to drop all existing criminal investigations into NGOs and to repeal this law in accordance with its domestic and international obligations to protect freedom of association.
The actions of the Government of Egypt are unacceptable and stand in stark contrast to government commitments outlined in The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in Resolution A/RES/53/144, which protects the rights of human rights advocates to promote human rights at the national and international levels “Unmask Them’ Campaign calls on the international community to take action to support Egyptian human rights defenders and their work to advance the human rights of all Egyptians, by urging the Government of Egypt to uphold its international commitments, to close the criminal investigations into the work of human rights groups, and to Repeal the Law 70/2017. Additionally, we call on Egypt’s international partners providing foreign assistance and economic aid, particularly the United States and the European Union member states, to urge the Egyptian government to allow NGOs to fulfill their function within civil society and we call upon them to suspend export licenses to Egypt for any equipment that could be used for domestic repression.We also request the United Nations and United Nations Human Rights Council, and their member states, to use their positions as mediators within the international community to hold Egypt accountable for legislation that muzzles civil society to such a severe degree.
We, in Unmask Them we believe that elevating the voice against the violations of Egyptians, especially the most marginalized, and the civil and human rights activists that are prosecuted by the regime is at the base of human rights protection proclaimed in the international human rights declaration, and is a universal and collective responsibility.
Our Objectives are:
• To Create a cross-border organism that advocate rights of Egyptian people
• To Unmask all parties (either individuals or states) who help and support, directly and indirectly, the Egyptian regime in his attacks against civil society and his human rights violations
• To Unmask the fact that the regime is using its legislative power to shut down the civil society
• To Collaborate in promoting the appeal of the Law 70 of 2017 and articles related through developing an alternative legislative bill draft for consideration to use by the government.
• To raise global awareness about the violations of human rights taking place in Egypt
• To Stress Egypt’s international partners providing foreign assistance and economic aid to take action to support Egyptian civil society and to end human rights violations in Egypt committed by the regime.
• To Reclaim the protection of human rights of Egyptians as an international and collective responsibility