Egyptian Government Doubles Down on Threats to Silence Peaceful Dissent
Despite widespread criticism of its crackdown on nonviolent government critics, including human rights organizations, the Egyptian government is on the verge of passing a new law giving the state further powers to penalize individuals for their views.
On September 20, 2017 the cabinet approved amendments to the Nationality Law, Law 26 of 1975, that would allow the state to strip nationality from “Anyone who joins any group, association, body, organization, gang or entity of any nature inside or outside the country that aims to harm public order of the state or undermines the social, economic or political situation.”
Leaders of human rights organizations under investigation in the notorious Case 173, the so-called foreign funding case, are facing sweeping charges that accuse them of “harming national security, spreading instability in Egypt, encouraging a state of chaos and a security breakdown, encouraging rifts within Egyptian society and the failure of the Egyptian regime.”
The similarity between the language in the proposed amendments to the Nationality Law and that of the charges against human rights organizations in Case 173 has raised concern that the amendments will be another weapon in the government’s relentless crackdown on civil society.
Egypt has long been a leader in devising innovative methods to repress human rights organizations. It is a worrying development if human rights defenders—already facing travel bans, asset seizures, detention, torture, and threats—also run the risk of becoming stateless. It is perhaps the logical conclusion of state propaganda against human rights defenders labeling them as foreign agents and unpatriotic.
Using the threat of stripping nationality against non-violent government critics would be a further violation of Egypt’s obligations under international law. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality.” And that, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality…” Article 12 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his right to enter his own country.”
The U.S. government has urged the Egyptian government to lift its crackdown on dissent. Conditions attached to foreign assistance funds by Congress and statements from senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Tillerson, have called for easing of the mounting pressures civil society. Tillerson withheld almost $200 million of military assistance over unspecified human rights concerns, which reportedly include the repressive new NGO law and the general crackdown on civil society.
Secretary of State Tillerson and other administration officials should make clear that further repression will not release the withheld military assistance, or remove the irritant of Egypt’s worsening human rights record from the bi-lateral relationship between Egypt and the United States.