Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that recent statements by the European Union and the United Kingdom critical of a recent court decision to uphold asset freezes on two NGOs in Cairo showed a “double standards” exercised by some countries when dealing with Egypt.
“Such countries call for respecting the rule of law and [the separation of the branches of government] only when this comes in accordance with their visions and interests, while at other times criticising court verdicts and asking the executive authority in Egypt to interfere in judicial affairs when verdicts are not in line [with their interests],” foreign ministry spokesman Abu Zeid in a statement.
He reiterated Egypt’s commitment to supporting NGO activities, adding that there are currently 48,000 NGOs operating in Egypt with “full freedom and in accordance with the country’s legal regulations.”
He called on countries that have “set themselves as judges” over other nations, communities and legal apparatuses to look to their own “domestic affairs and flawed political and social conditions, which are no secret to anyone.”
He said that these countries should leave Egypt to continue its path towards building a modern civil state that is based on the rule of law, respect of legal verdicts and a protection of the interests of its people.
Saturday’s statement by the Egyptian foreign ministry comes two days after the EU said on that an Egyptian court decision to uphold an asset freeze on two NGOs – the Arab Penal Reform Organisation (APRO) and Nazra for Feminist Studies – “continues a worrying trend” of restricting civil society in Egypt.
On Wednesday, a Cairo criminal court upheld a previous court decision to freeze the assets of Nazra director Mozn Hassan and APRO director Mohamed Zaree over charges that they illegally received foreign funding.
“Human rights defenders and an active civil society play a key role in democratic and economic development, helping build political stability this regard,” an EU spokesperson said in the Thursday statement.
On Friday, the UK’s Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said he was “deeply concerned” by the court decisions.
“A strong civil society is vital to Egypt’s long term stability and economic development. Restrictions and sanctions on civil society organisations take Egypt further away from implementing the freedoms set out in the 2014 Constitution. The impact of this decision on the work of those striving to protect women’s rights in Egypt is particularly troubling,” the UK minister said.
Hassan and Zaree are among a number of prominent Egyptian human rights activists slammed with asset freezes and travel bans in 2016 pending trial into charges of receiving illegal foreign funding.
A law managing the activities of NGOs was passed last December by Egypt's parliament – yet to be ratified by the president – sparked widespread criticism by human rights activists locally and internationally.
Twenty-two NGOs and six political parties have signed a statement saying that the draft law would “end civil society” by putting it under the control of government and security bodies.
Egypt has repeatedly described international reports on the country’s human rights record as “biased and politically motivated,” stressing that it rejects comments by international organisations on Egyptian court verdicts.