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Rights Groups Protest New Egyptian Law on Associations - 2002-06-11

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has signed a law that bans human rights groups and other associations from engaging in political activity and prevents them from receiving funds from foreign sources without prior government approval. Human rights groups are strongly protesting, saying the law "negatively affects everyone's civil rights."

Ahmed Seif El Islam of the Hisham Mubarak Human Rights Center in Cairo says he believes the new law will put an end to all non-government organizations in Egypt. "The law is guaranteed the government can control everything inside the association," he said. "Any association, they [the government] must give their permission to start their work. They must give their permission to work on special fields, and they must give their permission before receiving any funds. And at the end, they can cancel the association at any time they need. To make a long story short, the government can control everything inside the association. It is not a non-governmental organization. It will become a semi-governmental organization."

An official statement from Egypt's social affairs ministry said the law is flexible and widens the scope of freedom for associations.

Egyptian political analyst Abdel Moneim Sa'id says that the law will help crack down on the funding of potential terrorists and extremist Islamic groups. But he says he does not understand why all legitimate non-governmental organizations must be affected.

Negad Borai, a leading human-rights activist and lawyer in Egypt says the law negatively affects everyone. "They want to stop human-rights organizations to do anything, to restrict freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of newspaper and so on," he said. "It does not give the ordinary person any rights against this."

Egypt's parliament, controlled by President Mubarak's National Democratic Party, overwhelmingly approved the measure earlier this month, despite appeals and protests by Egyptian activists.

The head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Bahey el Ein Hassan, said the new law will be "aggressively appealed to Egypt's supreme constitutional court." But he said, "it will likely take years to get a ruling."