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More Blows to Civil Organizations Women and the challenges of Law 153/1999

2 September 1999

More Blows to Civil Organizations
Women and the challenges of Law 153/1999

The stance of the Ministry of Social Affairs regarding the attempt to
establish the Egyptian Women's Union, based on the initiative of Dr. Nawal
El-Saadawi, was nothing but a warning sign that reveals the true intentions
behind the issuance of Law 153 of 1999. The Ministry's statement asserts
that there is no room for anyone wanting to establish an organization that
does not subject itself to the control of the administration. This law is
but a poor attempt from the administration to cover in the form of a law
the real and ugly image of governmental control. This has been exemplified
by the following facts

Firstly, a preliminary committee was formed to discuss the establishment of
Egypt's Women's Union. This committee was headed by Dr. Nawal El-Saadawi,
who met with Minister Dr. Mervat Tellawi on 19 June 1999. Dr. Tellawi
expressed her support of the initiative to establish a union for women's
NGOs working in the fields of women, family and social development. Based
on the initial approval by the Minister, a meeting was set for 27th June.
The committee invited women's associations taken from a list released by
the general administrator of the associations in the ministry, stating the
names of 21 associations working in the area of women, to attend the
meeting. Promptly after Dr. Saadawi had invited representatives from these
women's associations, a number of letters (#936, 1123 and 1223) were
received from the President of the General Council highlighting the
Ministry's position with regards to independent activity. The letters
stated the following

1.	The invitation to a meeting to discuss the establishment of a women's
union is an unlawful one because it is not permissible to invite
associations to attend a meeting unless the invitation is issued by
regional unions or the general union.
2.	The concept of "establishment" only means the presentation of
documentation, illustrations and guidelines.
3.	There is no field of work or activity called the field of women.
4.	A group that is working close to the ministry is making efforts to
establish a specialized union for associations working in the field of
women and it is not permissible for more than one specialized union to be
established in the country for the same activity.
5.	The law requires the postponement of the establishment of the union
until after the guidelines and modifications to the organization of these
associations are made.

The truly surprising aspect is the condescending manner of these letters
and the blatant contradiction they show. When the applicant is someone the
ministry does not approve of, it states that there is no field of work
called the field of women, and when the applicant is someone that the
ministry approves it states that there is indeed a field of work for women.

The government's mentality that is responsible for the law organizing the
work of non-governmental organizations is unable to acknowledge that it is
the right of citizens to meet and discuss their lawful aims, and that the
aim to establish a union of women is indeed a lawful one. Thus, meeting in
order to discuss the matter is legitimate and there is no law that
restricts the individual from inviting representatives of some associations
to meet. 

This bureaucratic mentality, which is focused on the idea of gaining
permission to exercise freedom, is incapable of imagining that a citizen
would dare to take any action without taking the consent of the government.
Until this way of thinking gains a lawful cover for its domineering nature,
there is no objection to restricting the concept of establishment to that
of the presentation of documentation and guidelines, which in fact is only
the final stage of the process. This is done in order to obtain approval
from the administration to exercise one's constitutional rights. This
reasoning totally ignores the fact that, in order to present guidelines or
other documentation, several meetings and preliminary sessions are required
to formulate these guidelines, and this is the essence of the process of

That logic also ignores that the law regulating the work of NGOs is active
on the day after its publication, i.e. starting from 28th May 1999. Thus,
it is incorrect for the law to require the postponement of the
establishment of the union until after the executive guidelines of the law
are issued based on the following legal considerations

1.	The law should not affect the process of establishment of any new
associations, organizations or unions. According to the law, the only
process that should be postponed is that which entails improving conditions
within, noting that this process only applies to organizations or
associations whose systems do not meet the conditions specified in the new
2.	Using the logic of this law, it is assumed that the associations and
civic organizations that do not have these problems should not be affected
in any way whatsoever. The process of improving conditions should not
affect any organization's legal status, for it is still a legal entity that
has its individual authorities.

However, the most astonishing remark remains that there is no field or
scope of activity that concerns women. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to
imagine any kind of civic or voluntary activity that does not include room
for women. Even if this were true, that does not mean that this field
should be marginalized, underestimated, or restricted. Certainly this would
disclaim the law itself, which stated in article 11 that associations
working for the development of society can resume their activities in
various fields as long as they function according to the executive
guidelines and seek the approval of the specific unions and that of the
managerial body.

By looking further into this article, it becomes clear that the
associations are given freedom when it comes to selecting their cause and
scope of activities. However, what the new law targets is duplication and
multiplicity. Ultimately, the goal is the development of society and women
constitute nearly fifty per cent of this society that we seek to develop
and nurture. Hence denying the role of women's groups under the new law
would contradict this higher goal, on which both the government and the
civic community have agreed. In addition, going public with the intention
to establish a union for women's associations does not go against the
essence of the new law, which requires that there be at least ten private
existing associations during the transitional phase.

It is apparent from the correspondence of the preparatory committee that
the public announcement of this new union will not happen until after the
executive guidelines are issued and the associations start to modify their
organizational structures. The preparatory committee has set a meeting for
26th December 1999 to finish up the process. This date was selected taking
into account the deadline for the issuance of the executive guidelines. An
important point that should not be overlooked is the fat that under article
64 of the new law, associations and civic institutions are given the right
to establish amongst them unions of a specialized nature or along regional
lines having nominal significance. This is governed by certain guidelines
whereby the specialized union must be made up of the associations and civic
organizations that work together or finance common activities in a certain
field, whether on the national or governorate level.

The minister's statements are clearly contradictory and full of double
standards. While Dr. Nawal El-Saadawi was being subjected to fierce
accusations, the minister was making public statements to the effect that
the Ministry of Social Affairs had received applications from over two
hundred civil associations requesting the establishment of a
activity-specific union on a nationwide level. The minister also stated
that the ministry was in fact seriously considering the issue and that, in
effect, those applicants had priority in initiating the establishment of
such a union, making it unlawful for anyone else to do so because the
establishment of more than one union within the same field on a national
level was not legitimate.

The undersigned human rights organizations have the following questions

1.	The minister justified her refusal of the meeting of 22nd May 1999 on
the grounds that the associations invited had not yet completed the process
of adapting their organizations to the new law. This process is pending
upon the issuance of the executive guidelines, yet how is it possible for
more than two hundred associations to modify their organizations in the
absence of these guidelines?
2.	Using the same reasoning, how could it be possible to give these
associations priority in establishing an encompassing union while at the
same time forbidding the associations attempting the establishment of the
Egyptian Women's Association from doing so? It should be noted that their
initiative goes back several months and it was approved by the minister and
the Ministry of Social Affairs.
3.	It is also highly questionable that over two hundred associations
managed to have the same idea, met and discussed this initiative in a
record time, giving them priority in establishing the union. It is only
logical that there was a party that initiated the contacts and coordinated
between these numerous organizations on all logistical matters, e.g.
correspondence, preliminary meetings, coming to mutual agreement on basic
issues, improving organizational structure, etc. What is this party's legal
standing? Who was behind this initiative? Using the same argument as the
President of the General Council, wasn't this initiative by over two
hundred associations that had not completed the revision of their
organizational structures an illegitimate one, and one that was premature?

Moving on to the issue of the Arab Women's Solidarity Association that
exists under the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), this
group has been given more of a consultant classification. The reason for
this was the international standing of the association, based on the
decision of the Council in its regular round in the year 1985. The
association was given approval by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
remained active, proceeding with its international meetings in Cairo with
the approval of the Administration of International Associations in the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It also continued its activities in Egypt and
the Arab World after its branch in Egypt was closed on 15th June 1999. This
branch used the name of the main association, as do the other association
offices. The Arab Women's Solidarity  Association also held its 5th
International Conference in Cairo in October 1997, with the approval of the
official bodies. This official standing of the association has no bearing
on any of its local offices in Arab countries, including Egypt. Also, the
shutting down of the association's Egyptian office does not affect the main
association in any way, nor does it affect its presence or activities. More
importantly, Law 153 of 1999 allows international associations that operate
more like consultants to assume the activities of associations. This is
based on the classification of these associations as international civic

Based on what we have presented, the human rights organizations renew their
doubts and fears regarding the legitimacy of the new law. Human rights
organizations are also concerned about the intentions of the ministry, and
the way in which it deals with institutions it does not want to see
established. The ministry also insists on using the law for political
considerations, something that contradicts with the minister's statements
before and after the issuance of the law asserting that no institution or
association will be barred from activity or from being established unless
for legal considerations.

The undersigned organizations and all other human rights and civil society
associations renew their demand that the constitutional loopholes and the
undemocratic nature of the new law be reconsidered. It is imperative that
the law is re-evaluated on more democratic grounds to include the whole of
civil society in Egypt, acknowledging that it is the basis of civil and
voluntary activity for the new millenium.

1.	Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
2.	Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
3.	Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession
4.	Group for Democratic Development
5.	Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners
6.	Hisham Mubarak Center for Law
7.	Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
8.	Egyptian Center for Women's Rights 

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