Watching the Watchdogs :Restrictions Imposed on Civil Society Organizations in PostRevolutionary Egypt

Thumbnail Image
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
According to some, civil society in the Middle East is the sphere that could counter authoritarian regimes. Others seriously question this positive image, pointing out that the prevalent political framework currently governing civil society organizations, strongly influences its effectiveness. This thesis supports the later claim. It argues that, despite its presence, civil society in Egypt is restricted and limited by a government mainly concerned with its maintenance of power. This thesis is a case study of Egyptian civil society, beginning from the time period of January the 25th, the beginning of the Arab Spring in Egypt, until May 2014, when this thesis was submitted. Since the Arab Spring, and the fall of the thirty year standing Mubarak regime, Egypt has faced a very unsteady political situation. The fall of this authoritarian government created a power vacuum that many eagerly wanted to fill, as for the first time there was a space in which political ideas and future visions of democracy could freely be expressed. As civil society organizations suddenly saw openings in a political arena that for them had been forbidden territory, international institutions, active in the field of promoting democracy and human rights, saw the opportunity to easily support local organizations. But this utopian scenario soon changed, as shortly after being elected. Former president Mohamed Morsi gained executive and legislative power occupying the position of the monarch he fiercely rejected when asking for the people’s vote for his election. Exactly one year later, General Abdl Fatah el-Sisi oust this democratically elected president and won the people’s heart by promising freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, until the time of writing, circumstances seem to deteriorate. Since the wave of the Arab Spring raged through the Middle East, there has been a pattern in the development of the civil society sphere focused on democracy and human rights, in which either political liberalization or more severe repression has taken place. The slight political liberalization that took place after the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, lead to an enormous growth of the number of civil society organizations. Nevertheless a growth in number does not always indicate development and today’s organizations still claim to suffer from soft – bureaucracy, control of the administrative mechanism, adjustment of the constitution – as well as hard – violent – measures which hinders them when performing their work. Since the situation on the ground is very subjected to current fast political changes, little academic research has been performed on the circumstances for civil society organizations after the January 25 Revolution. This research aims to contribute to filling that gap by providing insight into the current relationship between the state and civil society in regards to democracy and human rights in Egypt. This is done by focussing on the challenges and restrictions civil society organizations have been facing under the different governments that have ruled Egypt since the Arab Spring. By a way of a literature review on civil society theories and by field research in Egypt, the relationship between the state and civil society is further elaborated. Statements are then tested against empirical data obtained through several months of field work during two different stays at the country. During these periods, interviews with civil society organizations were conducted. Analysing the results showed that civil society is not always a method to counter authoritarian regimes and is not always capable of empowering a society for democracy.
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen