Over the last few years, the term ‘civil society’ has raised much controversy starting with the basic question of the importance of civil society to begin with, and culminating in accusations of treason.
The government and pro-government media have helped, over the past few years, to erect substantial barriers between citizens and the idea of civil society. Despite the role civil society has played, and continues to play—providing aid and relieving injustice against citizens in numerous fields—for the most part the media machine has only directed smears and charges of treason its way.
In the past few months, the government has made several attempts to issue legislations with the declared purpose of regulating the operation of civil society and monitoring its funding. But a look at the details of these proposed statutes and decrees reveals that the real goal is to crush civil society and bring it under state control, to prevent it from operating with the freedom it needs to defend the rights of citizens and offer aid to them. This makes it our responsibility—all of ours—to preserve a real role for civil society because the enforcement of these statutes will, in practice, produce useless civil society organizations.
To highlight the role of civil society in Egypt and to affirm that civic action is the right of every Egyptian citizen, which no authority may control or infringe upon, the undersigned organizations are launching a campaign titled “My Right and Yours”, to familiarize the public with civil society and its role and respond to frequent questions about civil society, its work, its funding, and the laws that regulate it in Egypt.
In contemporary democracies, civil society functions as an intermediary between state institutions and the people. Researchers in civil society organizations are closer to the reality on the ground than state officials are. Through their direct contact with the citizenry, they help draw a more realistic portrait of society. They offer direct aid to citizens, if they need it, or provide indirect support through studies and research that is presented to the government and parliamentarians, and then they work with these officials to issue legislation and follow policies that solves citizens’ problems.
In Egypt, over the past few years, civil society has attempted to provide aid to Egyptian citizens in numerous ways, through charitable organizations, civic associations, and rights groups. Despite their differences, these organizations are always ready to cooperate with the Egyptian government to draft legislations that serve citizens and reform the policies and practices that lead to violations of people’s rights.
On more than one occasion, human rights lawyers have turned to the courts to win rulings that compel the government to comply with legislation that serves citizens’ interests. And on many occasions, the Egyptian judiciary has responded to the demands of these organizations, lawyers having presented solutions or alternatives to resolve these problems in their defense briefs. Civil society has achieved many victories that aim primarily to improve the conditions of Egyptians in various areas.
Civil society does not operate apart from the state or Egyptian citizens. In fact, it is an inseparable part of the fabric of Egyptian society and the democratic process in its broader meaning. The responsibility to protect civil society and its freedom to engage in civic action thus falls on all Egyptians, in defense of their right to a genuine civil society that serves their interests and gives voice to the reality they live in.
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
- El Nadeem Center for Psychological Rehabilitation of victims of Violence and Torture
- Egyptian Association for Freedom Of Thought and Expression
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- Nazra for Feminist Studies
- National Community for Human Rights and Law
- Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom
- Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights