Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1228, (8 - 14 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

NGOs prepare to monitor elections

The Higher Elections Commission’s conditions for NGOs hoping to monitor upcoming elections have triggered widespread concern. Ahmed Morsy reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

For two weeks now, local nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have been locked in dispute over the terms under which they will be allowed to monitor the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Some NGOs believe the terms will make it impossible for them to do their work. Others claim the terms are similar to those applied in the 2014 presidential elections.

Two weeks ago the Higher Elections Commission (HEC) issued a decree regulating Egyptian and international NGOs intending to monitor the imminent parliamentary elections. NGOs working in the fields of elections, human rights and the promotion of democracy will be allowed to monitor the upcoming elections but only if they meet authorisation conditions set by the HEC.

To qualify, an NGO must have a proven track record of neutrality and “a good reputation”. They must “be credible for neutrality and transparency and also have prior experience in observing elections.” Representatives of Egyptian organisations who will monitor the vote have to be registered in the voters’ database and have “no previous conviction for a felony or a crime of honesty or honour.”

“The conditions imposed on NGOs are the same as those applied in the presidential polls last year,” says Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) and one of those who seem to be satisfied with the terms.

Abu Seada hopes the HEC will provide NGOs with a sufficient period of time to submit their representatives’ data. “It was one of the problems of NGOs in the previous elections and it led to a drop in the number of representatives’ permits,” he said.

“The parliamentary polls are more difficult than the presidential polls in terms of monitoring since we have a lot of districts and a lot of candidates and to be covered they need an adequate number of independent monitors. I hope the HEC will allow as many NGO observers as possible to participate.”

The terms also require NGOs to have been established and publicised in accordance with Law No. 84 of 2002, relating to NGOs, in order to be guaranteed a permit to monitor the elections. Under the law, NGOs cannot receive foreign funding without permission from the Minister of Social Solidarity, and the government has the authority to dissolve NGOs without a court order.

This law has long been criticised by NGOs and NGO activists on the grounds that “it hinders the development of civil society.” They have repeatedly requested that the law be repealed and replaced with more appropriate legislation. Abu Saeda himself was one of the law’s critics during the government of former president Hosni Mubarak.

In June, the Ministry of Social Solidarity invited NGOs to participate in a “societal discussion” on a new draft law for NGOs. In a joint statement, 29 NGOs described the draft law as “repressive”, adding that it “aims to strangle the public sphere.”

Despite the ongoing process to draft a new NGO law, the Ministry of Social Solidarity initially issued an ultimatum for NGOs to register under the older law by 25 September to avoid closure. The deadline was subsequently extended to 10 November following complaints from NGOs. On the appointed day the government took no action, though some NGOs had taken precautionary measures.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), for example, moved its regional and international programmes outside Egypt against the backdrop of what it called “ongoing threats to human rights organisations and the declaration of war on civil society.”

According to a statement by the NGO on 9 December, “This move comes after the expiration of the deadline set by the Ministry of Social Solidarity for ‘unregistered entities’ to register under a draconian associations law and mounting security pressures aimed at shutting out every independent, critical voice from the public sphere, individuals and institutions, Islamist or secular, as well as the erosion of the pillars of the rule of law and the constitution and the deterioration of human rights in the country to a level unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history.”

For Magdi Abdel-Hamid, head of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation (EACP), however, “the conditions relating to the law No. 84 of 2002 are normal, though it will deprive NGOs working under the umbrella of the Civil Companies Law from monitoring the elections. And it is a part of a long struggle between such NGOs and the state which requires their closure.”

The EACP was one of the NGOs that monitored the presidential elections, and expressed its strong dissatisfaction with the HEC’s terms. “The terms are very similar to the terms adopted during the presidential elections, although the HEC promised NGOs that it would facilitate the regulations for monitoring and following up the parliamentary elections to make them easier than those of the presidential elections,” Abdel-Hamid said.

The HEC’s terms include another controversial point: each NGO must obtain a recent certificate issued by the relevant ministry indicating that the NGO is resuming its work in the field of monitoring elections.

“Obtaining a recent certificate from the ministry is a hamstringing condition,” Abdel-Hamid said, explaining that the HEC is applying the conditions too strictly. “I don’t think such strictness has any relation to their concern about Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organisations; such arbitrariness will be applied to us as well.”

Mohamed Fayek, head of the National Organisation for Human Rights, called on the HEC to open the door to the largest number of foreign organisations possible to monitor the elections. “Egypt doesn’t have anything to hide,” said Fayek. “Such international NGOs should receive official invitations from the government to attend the elections and obtain the required approvals of the HEC.”

A number of international organisations and bodies, including the European Union, African Union, Arab League and Global Network for Rights, monitored the presidential elections last May.

Even the US democracy watchdog led by former president Jimmy Carter, the Carter Centre — which closed its Egypt office last October, citing restrictive measures and “an overall anti-democratic environment” — deployed an “expert mission” to observe the broader context surrounding the presidential elections in Egypt, “including the ongoing legal and political context,” according to a statement it released in April.

The Carter Center will not be observing these elections, though the Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development Studies, an NGO founded by prominent sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim, is reportedly negotiating with the Carter Center with a view to the latter playing a supervisory role.

Egypt has been operating without a lower house of parliament since the Supreme Constitutional Court deemed its People’s Assembly unconstitutional in June 2012. The parliamentary elections are the third pillar of the country’s road map, after the presidential elections and the constitutional referendum. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has announced that the elections will take place before the end of March 2015.

Regarding the regulation of NGOs during the electoral process, HEC spokesperson Medhat Idris said that licenced NGOs will not be allowed to interfere with the voting process. “They will be allowed to observe the procedures of registration, campaigning and voting, but not to be involved in any practices that might impact the polls,” he said.

The HEC’s decree allows NGO representatives to be inside polling stations for a maximum of 30 minutes. On this point, Abdel Hamid said, “Observers have the right to be inside polling stations without time limits as long as they don’t obstruct the voting process.”

Idris added that NGOs will not be allowed to conduct opinion polls or announce any results before they are officially announced by the HEC. Local and foreign NGOs will be allowed to prepare reports about the electoral process to be submitted to the HEC, however. The date for receiving observation requests is yet to be set.

 

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