NEW DELHI: The issue of foreign funding in Egypt -- which is known for arresting foreigners and natives linked with any form of foreign funding of the NGOs- - has take a dramatic turn. The hearing of a high profile case dating back to 2011 of a human rights group has been postponed to May as US Secretary of State John Kerry met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Kerry had raised this issue before and hence, the postponing of the case, exactly at the time of his visit to Egypt reveals the dubious motives of the government. The Egyptian media though is not reporting the reopening of this case due to the gag order which had been declared by the Judge Hesham Abdel Maged. Meanwhile, article 78 of the penal code has been amended by the President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by the addition of the provision that ‘receiving foreign funding for the purpose of harming national security” is punishable by life imprisonment.” Additionally, there are several deputies in the Egyptian parliament like Abdel-Rehim Ali, who is an independent MP, who strongly opines that strict action must be taken against the NGOs who receive any form of foreign funding.

Way back in 2011, around 109 NGOs had been targeted by the Egyptian government for receiving illegal foreign funding. It was also quite a sensitive moment as the Egyptian uprising was at its full peak and the government strongly believed a foreign hand was involved in orchestrating the protests against the state. Though, the current case which has been reopened targets seven NGOs which includes Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). As the case reopened, there has been a travel ban imposed on activists such as Esraa Abdel Fattah.

Hossam Bahgat who had founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was critically questioned by the military because he did an investigative piece called ‘A Coup Busted’ which revealed the internal trial of military officers who had failed to launch an internal coup. In March 2016, Bahgat has been once again targeted and now he is being accused of receiving foreign funding during 2011. Bahgat strongly opines that after the ouster of Morsi, the NGOs have become the direct enemies of the state and they are being strictly targeted in an egregious manner. Moreover, the space for dissent and civil society in Egypt is shrinking as the law of 2002, which has been active since the Mubarak regime is controlling the outreach of the NGOs. Even when NGOs were later asked to participate in the formation of a NGO law during the Morsi regime, it did not have the permission of the security forces and hence, it never materialized in a concrete manner.

The Egyptian human right activists state that they are being assaulted and oppressed and the freedom for which the entire January 25 uprising was organized is reaching its failure, as the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule does not signify any difference. This 2011 case has been revived again and again by the Egyptian court and dragged for almost five years now. Meanwhile, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan has openly stated that the human rights record in Egypt is quite abysmal and hence, it cannot be supported.

Around 17 Egyptian rights organizations have recently released a joint statement in which they mention how an ‘escalated and orchestrated’ assault in being done on them by the authorities in power. The statement negates the freezing of the assets of the human rights defenders as well as the travel ban which has been imposed on them and believes that the government is silently using the judiciary to trample any form of dissent. There are thousands of journalists, intellectuals and civil society people who are still in prison without any investigation or evidence since the military took over the country in 2013.

(Main photo: At an anti-government protest in Cairo. Credit: The Guardian)