Table of Contents


Following a brief opening after the 2011 uprising, Egypt’s independent civil society organizations (CSOs) today face the most repressive environment in decades. Historically, autocratic governments in Egypt have selectively used civil society restrictions to ensure civic mobilization did not cross the ruling regime’s red lines. In contrast, Egypt’s new military government is using a multitude of tactics to undertake a much more comprehensive campaign to shrink civic space.

This renewed crackdown has the following features:

  1. The criminalization of public dissent in the name of national security and counterterrorism.
  2. The use of legal reforms and decrees to institutionalize previously extrajudicial repressive practices, close existing loopholes, and tighten security sector control over civil society.
  3. Targeted harassment and defamation of Egypt’s leading human rights activists and organizations.

Legal Gray Zones and Selective Repression

A Restrictive Legal Framework

Under former president Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian civil society organizations operated in an environment of limited freedom and selective repression. The government had inherited a comprehensive system of state control over civil society established during the 1960s to limit the political and social influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, codified in the law of association (Law 32 of 1964).199 Mubarak nevertheless tolerated the rapid proliferation of Egyptian civil society organizations during the 1990s, while at the same time closely monitoring and regulating their activities. In a strategy common to autocratic regimes in the region, the government relied on a mix of divide-and-rule tactics, selective enforcement of civil society laws, and unofficial security sector oversight to maintain state control over the sector.200

Following increasing domestic pressure in the early 2000s, the government enacted a new NGO law (Law 84 of 2002), which eased some of the worst restrictions but retained significant barriers to freedom of association. For example, the law required that all NGOs register with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, banned any civil society activities that threaten national unity or violate public order or morality, and prohibited groups from receiving foreign funding without advance approval.201 It also gave government agencies high discretionary authority to deny funding applications for unwanted projects and dissolve those organizations that crossed the regime’s red lines. The State Security Investigations Sector of the Ministry of Interior regularly vetted NGO applications and operations, though it lacked the formal authority to do so.202 In addition, Mubarak’s emergency powers, renewed every year following the assassination of former president Anwar Sadat in 1981, gave security forces sweeping powers to arrest, detain, and sentence anyone suspected of being a threat to public order—a powerful tool that was used to spread fear and silence prominent critics.203

Limited Expansion and Targeted Harassment

Despite this harsh legal framework, a relatively vibrant circle of NGOs emerged in the 1990s and early 2000s: between 1993 and 2011, the Egyptian NGO sector more than doubled in size.204 This expansion coincided with a period of economic privatization and welfare state retrenchment during which the government increasingly came to rely on civil society actors to fill the gaps left by the state.205 By 2011, there were approximately 30,000 officially registered civil society organizations active in Egypt—most of which focused on charitable work and service provision in areas such as health, education, and welfare.206

While the Mubarak regime tolerated social development groups, business associations, and state-dominated syndicates and unions, it regularly harassed civil society groups working on politically sensitive issues.207 Most human rights and pro-democracy organizations failed to successfully register with the government. Some operated while awaiting their formal registration approval—a process that often dragged out for months or years. Hundreds of others circumvented existing rules by registering as civil companies, law firms, or local branches of international NGOs, which allowed them to access foreign funding without ministerial approval.208

While the government at times seemed to turn a blind eye to these practices, the situation of many groups remained precarious. Even those that were formally registered experienced regular interference in their internal affairs and could easily be dissolved based on shaky evidence of administrative wrongdoing. The relative expansion of associational freedom throughout the 1990s and early 2000s also sharpened divisions within civil society, particularly between secularists and Islamists.209 Egypt’s legal framework made partnerships and informal coordination between civil society groups extremely difficult, leading to inefficiencies, duplication, and competition even among like-minded actors.210

A Short-Lived Opening

A New Civic Awakening

Following the massive popular mobilization that led to Mubarak’s resignation in early 2011, many Egyptians expressed hope that Egypt’s beleaguered civil society would finally have the space to flourish without fear of repression. The lifting of the emergency law opened new opportunities for local and foreign NGOs to focus on political issues, such as voter registration drives and parliamentary training programs.211 International donors ramped up their funding for democracy and human rights programming. Civil society organizations played a crucial role in the subsequent transitional phase, chronicling the revolution’s progress, highlighting abuses of power, providing legal assistance, and filling the gaps created by the rapid reorganization of state structures.212 As Egyptian politics and society entered a state of flux, the red lines that existed under Mubarak appeared to have been erased.213

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power after the fall of Mubarak, feared the increasing popularity of Egyptian democracy and human rights groups. Suddenly on the front line of politics, the military faced an unprecedented degree of public scrutiny. Activists began denouncing the long-standing use of military tribunals to try civilians and calling for greater civilian oversight of the military.214 Organizations that had previously been isolated from one another joined forces to share resources and suddenly presented a united front that called on the ruling council to step down and stand trial for abuses of authority.215 Human rights organizations attracted new funding and staff. For example, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights grew from two dozen employees to more than seventy-five.216

Tensions increased throughout the spring of 2011 as the new ruling authorities repeatedly ignored the demands and recommendations of civil society actors. The SCAF’s first government, under then prime minister Essam Sharaf, made some concessions to civil society, such as easing NGO registration requirements.217 However, the Mubarak regime’s key tools of repression remained firmly in place, including the 2002 NGO law.218 Many organizations continued experiencing delays in project and funding approvals. The state security apparatus, which had officially been disbanded with the revolution, continued to operate under the radar, exerting quiet pressure on civil society activists to let them know they were still being monitored.219

The 2011 NGO Crisis

At the same time, the SCAF began striking back against civil society with a smear campaign that depicted activists as foreign agents set on fostering instability and upheaval.220 In doing so, the transitional authorities took advantage of the heightened nationalism and fear of instability that characterized the months following the January uprising. The United States’ announcement in early 2011 that it would allocate $65 million directly to Egyptian pro-democracy groups only provided fodder for these claims.221 Egyptian officials argued that bypassing the government and giving money directly to civil society (including unregistered organizations) was an affront to national sovereignty. In July 2011, the former minister of international cooperation, Faiza Abou el-Naga, announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry tasked with investigating foreign funding of civil society groups.222 Throughout the subsequent months, findings of the investigation were leaked to pro-government newspapers, which reported that some organizations might be prosecuted for operating illegally. In November 2011, a Cairo criminal court ordered banks to divulge all transactions on the private accounts of sixty-three human rights defenders and organizations.223

The transitional authorities took advantage of the heightened nationalism and fear of instability that characterized the months following the January uprising.

In December 2011, the SCAF-approved campaign against civil society reached its climax when security forces raided the offices of seventeen American, German, and Egyptian organizations, including the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House, and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.224 The international groups were shut down, and forty-three of their employees were charged with operating and receiving foreign funds without the required license, triggering a diplomatic crisis between the Egyptian authorities and Egypt’s international partners.225 While foreign funding of Egyptian organizations had long been a highly sensitive issue in Egyptian politics, the raid represented an unprecedented move to shut down organizations that were seen as domestically threatening.

For several months, the NGO trial overshadowed the broader debate over the legal framework that would govern civil society in post-Mubarak Egypt. In early 2012, the military-appointed cabinet presented a new draft law to the Parliament that would have imposed even more draconian restrictions than the Mubarak-era law, triggering widespread protest by civil society activists.226 The Muslim Brotherhood–controlled legislature responded with a much more lenient bill, which was largely in line with international human rights standards. However, the balance of power at the time was not in the Brotherhood’s favor, and the proposal was tabled after the SCAF dissolved the lower house just before the election of former president Mohamed Morsi in June 2013.

Stalled Progress and Infighting

The Struggle Over a New Legal Regime

Morsi and his team, in power from mid-2012 to mid-2013, did little to reverse overarching repressive trends. Before coming to power, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party had publicly condemned “all forms of politically motivated crackdowns against NGOs” and called for the “immediate lifting of restrictions on the establishment and registration” of civil society organizations.227 Many civil society leaders hoped that the Muslim Brotherhood’s own precarious status and long-running persecution would push it toward a more liberal stance.

However, following Morsi’s ascent to the presidency, the Freedom and Justice Party scrapped its push for a more progressive legal regime. Instead, prominent Brotherhood leaders echoed the military’s narrative that foreign groups were seeking to undermine Egypt’s stability.228 The Freedom and Justice Party also put forward a new draft NGO law that maintained significant restrictions on foreign funding and civil society activities more broadly.229 In particular, it proposed the formation of a coordination committee made up of the representatives of different ministries and agencies—including the security services—that would decide on all matters related to foreign funding and foreign-funded organizations. Following extensive pushback, the Morsi administration agreed to eliminate several particularly controversial provisions—such as the rule that would have treated all NGO assets as “public funds” subject to high penalties in case of misuse.230 Yet the new draft sent to the Shura Council in May 2013 nevertheless provided for strict government control over the sector.231

The NGO Trial’s Chilling Effect on Civil Society

At the same time, the NGO trial set in motion by the SCAF in early 2012 continued unabated. In June 2013, all of the defendants, including seventeen U.S. citizens, were sentenced to up to five years in prison, mostly in absentia.232 The court also ordered the closure of several implicated international NGOs. The trial had a chilling effect: Egyptian organizations began turning down foreign funding out of fear of governmental reprisals, and organizations that had embraced political work in the aftermath of the revolution returned to less controversial activities. Furthermore, many foreign donors who had invested in Egypt after the revolution froze their politically related activities or chose to withdraw from Egypt entirely, and they became more cautious about disclosing their activities in the country (See Figure 5).233

Throughout this period, nongovernmental groups struggled to register with the Ministry of Social Solidarity (previously the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs), and groups waited for months to get the green light even for relatively uncontroversial health and education projects.234 Large parts of Egyptian civil society grew increasingly frustrated with Morsi’s intransigent leadership style and the lack of meaningful avenues for political participation. New civic actors emerged that openly turned against the government—supported by the security apparatus behind the scenes. A wide range of NGOs, business leaders, and political forces encouraged Egyptians to join forces against Morsi and even supported the military’s takeover in early July 2013.235 Many secular leaders hoped that a new compromise with the military would finally bring about the governance infrastructure needed to enable greater pluralism and organized civic participation.236

Resurgent Authoritarianism

After two years of relative flux and uncertainty, the military’s intervention represented a clear return of the ancien régime to the fore of Egyptian politics. The new authorities moved quickly to reassert state control over civil society. Since then, the crackdown on Egyptian civil society has taken on a different character, in both breadth and intensity.

The Post-Coup Criminalization of Public Dissent

The military’s initial crackdown targeted the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s key political constituencies, which represented the most immediate political threat. In the year following Morsi’s ouster, more than 40,000 people were arrested on political grounds.237 After a summer marked by direct violence against pro-Morsi protesters, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters in September 2013 banned all activities by the Muslim Brotherhood and ordered the freezing of its assets.238 Four months later, the military-backed government officially designated the Islamist movement as a terrorist organization.239 This decree has since been used to shut down hundreds of charities and nongovernmental organizations, often with little evidence of actual ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.240

However, it quickly became clear that the government’s campaign of repression extended beyond the Muslim Brotherhood, also targeting an ever-widening range of journalists, activists, and protesters under the pretext that they threaten public order or national security. In November 2013, interim president Adly Mansour issued a new law “organizing the right to public meetings, processions and peaceful demonstrations” (often referred to as the protest law), which granted security services the power to cancel or postpone any demonstration based on “serious information or evidence” regarding security threats.241 The law’s vague language facilitated a de facto ban on street protests—a highly effective political tool widely used since the January 2011 uprising. It also gave security services free rein to use violence against protesters and arbitrarily prohibit demonstrations in front of public institutions and facilities. Since its enactment, the law has played a key role in the clampdown on student protests and the detention and prosecution of thousands of Egyptians, including several high-profile activists.242 An October 2014 presidential decree further placed large parts of Egypt’s civilian infrastructure under army jurisdiction, which means that anyone demonstrating outside of a civilian government building without permission can be tried in military court.243

New Efforts to Regulate Civil Society

Since Sisi’s election in 2014, Egyptian authorities have also initiated new efforts to regulate and weaken organized civil society. First, the state media’s campaign against civil society continued in full force, with pro-Sisi outlets claiming that various NGOs were allied with terrorists or working on behalf of foreign powers to divide the country along sectarian lines.244 Pro-government television channels regularly accused NGOs of acting as spies or secretly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and depicted both domestic and international advocacy groups as national security threats.245

Rather than waiting for a new NGO law to pass, shortly after Sisi’s election, the government ordered all nongovernmental groups to reregister under the existing NGO law within forty-five days or risk being shut down and prosecuted.246 This ultimatum specifically targeted those organizations that had operated under the Mubarak regime by avoiding formal registration or registering as law firms, limited liability companies, or medical clinics. While government officials argued that the deadline would help ensure greater transparency in NGO financing and operations, activists feared further mass closures and prosecutions such as the ones initiated in late 2011.247 Rights groups were united in protesting the decree, arguing that registration would force them to give up their independence and allow the ministry to freeze their programs at any time.248 Faced with local and international pushback, Egyptian authorities initially agreed to extend the deadline and ultimately did not enforce the ultimatum.249 As a result, many groups have remained in legal limbo, vulnerable to future enforcement efforts.

At the same time, Sisi moved to institutionalize further foreign funding restrictions. In September 2014, he issued an amendment to Article 78 of the penal code that banned the receipt of foreign funding for any activity deemed harmful to “national interests” or “compromising national unity” and imposed life sentences for noncompliance.250 While the law was nominally aimed at Islamist terrorists, human rights defenders noted that its vague definition of national interests could easily be used to target any foreign-funded civil society organization, thereby essentially voiding their right to receive foreign funding. The decree was particularly worrisome for human rights defenders who had made it their primary task to defend those wrongfully accused of violent extremism and to document state abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism—activities that under the amendment could easily be prosecuted as acts of terrorism themselves. In this climate of legal uncertainty, and suddenly facing the prospect of severe criminal penalties, many human rights advocates left the country in fear of harassment and prosecution.251

Legal and Extralegal Harassment of Human Rights Activists

Over the past two years, Egyptian authorities have proceeded to gradually undermine prominent human rights organizations using legal and administrative tools as well as extralegal harassment. Since 2013, a clear repertoire of repression has taken shape, consisting of the stifling of NGO operations through bureaucratic hurdles and delays, funding restrictions, raids and interrogations, asset freezes, travel bans, digital attacks, and—in the most extreme cases—office closures and criminal charges. The government’s pattern has been one of gradual and unpredictable escalation, which has created an atmosphere of heightened fear and uncertainty among activists.

Most notably, the Sisi administration has revived Case 173, which targets forty-one of Egypt’s most well-known human rights organizations.252 The case has its origins in the 2011 NGO raids and subsequent trial. At the time, only foreign NGO workers and Egyptian employees of international organizations were charged and convicted, whereas the case against the Egyptian organizations was put on hold. Since 2015, Egyptian authorities have initiated a new wave of raids, interrogations, asset freezes, and travel bans in relation to the case. In September 2016, a criminal court issued an order to freeze the personal assets of five prominent human rights advocates and three NGOs: the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education.253 Four months later, women’s rights advocate Azza Soliman became the first to be arrested in connection to the case—a few weeks after authorities had frozen her personal and organizational assets and prevented her from traveling abroad.254 In another escalatory move, Egyptian police in February 2017 shut down the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.255 Egyptian authorities seem to view Case 173 as an effective tool to gradually increase the pressure on prominent activists and disrupt their work. An Egyptian judicial committee has imposed a gag order that prevents all local media outlets from reporting on the case.256

Instituting travel bans has emerged as a prominent tactic to stifle the work of human rights defenders. Between June 2014 and November 2016, Egyptian security services imposed at least eighty-four travel bans against lawyers, academics, and activists.257 Whereas in the past travel bans could only be applied pursuant to a court order, they now seem to serve as arbitrary sanctions, often imposed without officially declared reasons.258 In at least three cases, NGO workers who challenged their travel bans had their cases rejected in court.259 In addition, foreign researchers, human rights investigators, and staff of international organizations have been prevented from entering the country.260

Egyptian officials have also scaled up threats, interrogations, and detentions of human rights activists and other NGO workers, often on spurious charges. In one particularly stark example, security officials raided the house of the mother and brother of human rights lawyer Mohamed Ramadan and held them as hostages to force Ramadan to turn himself in.261 Many others have been arrested and convicted under the protest law. For example, Yara Sallam, an officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and Sanaa Seif, a student activist and member of No to Military Trials for Civilians, were sentenced to three years in prison for participating in an unauthorized demonstration.262 More recently, Egyptian prosecutors summoned several organizations to question them about their financial activities, following a joint report compiled by various government agencies that accused more than twenty human rights groups of tax evasion and money laundering.263 Researchers at the University of Toronto and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights have also uncovered a large-scale phishing operation targeting the digital communications of seven prominent human rights NGOs—all of which are also involved in Case 173.264 The timing and sophistication of the attacks suggest government involvement—in line with the Sisi administration’s effort to boost its surveillance capacities.

Increase in Enforced Disappearances

Since the appointment of Magdy Abdel Ghaffar as minister of the interior in early 2015, another pattern of repression has gained prominence: the enforced disappearance and extrajudicial detention of suspected dissidents, students, and activists. Instead of being charged in the formal legal system, Egyptians are increasingly disappearing into secretive detention facilities, where they are often held incommunicado for weeks or months without legal protection.265 Prosecutors often rely on so-called confessions obtained during such disappearances to convict defendants under the penal code or the counterterrorism law.266 According to data collected by the group Freedom for the Brave, more than 160 people were kidnapped between early April and June 2015 alone.267 The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms documented 187 cases of enforced disappearances between August and November 2016, whereas the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence counted 110 cases in February 2017.268

Instead of being charged in the formal legal system, Egyptians are increasingly disappearing into secretive detention facilities, where they are often held incommunicado for weeks or months without legal protection.

While the government points to the threat of terrorism, the primary aim of these disappearances seems to be to intimidate anyone likely to speak out against government policies.269 Targets have included suspected Muslim Brotherhood members, but also the April 6 Youth Movement and other liberal activists, journalists, lawyers, and citizens that simply got caught in the security services’ web. Egyptian authorities to date have not targeted prominent human rights defenders. However, those who document enforced disappearances, torture, and other security force abuses seem to be particularly at risk. For example, human rights lawyer and researcher Mohamed Sadek went missing for three months before reappearing before state security prosecutors in late November 2016.270 Sadek had himself been involved in investigating cases of enforced disappearance. Similarly, two researchers of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms—which had launched a “stop enforced disappearances” campaign—have been detained and charged for terrorism offenses.271 The three-month state of emergency—instituted following an ISIS bombing of two Coptic Christian churches in April 2017—will likely provide further legal cover for these practices.272

Institutionalizing Repression

The Sisi government has taken several steps to further institutionalize previously extrajudicial practices. First, it has effectively exploited terrorist threats and rising violence by nonstate actors to legalize its prosecution of political opponents and critics. In February 2015, Sisi issued a law for “organizing lists of terrorist entities and terrorists” that conflates any “breaches of the public order” as defined by the state with terrorist activities.273 Once again, the use of vague legal concepts opens the door for civil society organizations, activists, and political parties to be included on the list of terrorists and terrorist entities. This law was ratified during the first parliamentary session in early 2016 without revisions or discussion, along with the new protest law and the amendments to the penal code, thus showcasing the Parliament’s subservience to the executive. In addition, Sisi in August 2015 approved a second antiterrorism law, which imposes fines for spreading “false” reports on terrorist attacks or anti-terror operations and protects law enforcement from accountability for abuses.274 In a clear example of the judiciary’s broad application of these laws, an Egyptian criminal court in January 2017 designated 1,538 citizens as terrorists for allegedly assisting the Muslim Brotherhood.275 The designation entails a travel ban, asset freeze, passport cancellation, and the loss of political rights. The law makes no provision for the affected individuals to contest the evidence presented against them.

Second, the Egyptian House of Representatives in November 2016 also approved a new NGO law to replace Law 84 of 2002 with virtually no parliamentary debate.276 The new law represents the toughest iteration of any draft NGO law to date. It limits civil society organizations’ work to “development and social objectives,” which are not defined any further in the legislation; prohibits “harmful” activities (also not defined); and introduces hefty fines and jail terms of up to five years for noncompliance. It also formalizes security agencies’ oversight over civil society funding and activities and bans NGOs from “interfering” with professional syndicates and labor unions, thereby disrupting the links between nongovernmental groups and the wider net of interest-based advocacy associations. Activists have warned that if implemented, the law will effectively eliminate independent civil society. However, as of April 2017, the new legislation is yet to be ratified by the president, and its future remains uncertain.277

In another shift away from overt repression toward more sophisticated tactics, Egyptian authorities in late 2016 began stripping the protest law of some of its harshest provisions—without changing its fundamentally repressive logic. In December 2016, the Supreme Constitutional Court struck down Article 10 of the law, which had required protesters to obtain ministerial approval before holding a rally, while upholding the notification requirement and other highly restrictive provisions.278 The House of Representatives approved an amended version of the bill, which now requires security services to obtain judicial authorization before banning or postponing a protest.279 However, these amendments in all likelihood will not facilitate greater civic mobilization. Instead, they allow the regime to maintain the appearance of reform—while tightening state control over the public sphere in other ways.280 The Sisi regime has already taken several steps to extend its authority over the judiciary, including forcibly retiring dissenting judges and proposing legislative amendments that would curtail judicial independence.281 Egypt’s judiciary in the past served as an important ally for Egyptian civil society activists and often acted as bulwark against state repression.282 However, since Sisi’s ascent to power in 2013, many Egyptian judges have repeatedly prioritized public order and security over human rights concerns.283 In addition, the antiterrorism law and state of emergency provisions could easily be used to criminalize and crack down on protest in moments of crisis. The government has also quietly bolstered its efforts to intercept encrypted Internet communications and acquire technology that would enable greater citizen surveillance.284


The crackdown on Egyptian civil society can broadly be divided into two phases: (1) the 2011–2013 transition years that encompassed both SCAF rule and the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief stint in power and (2) the post-2013 return of military rule. The key driver of civil society repression throughout this period has been the attempt by various ruling authorities to reconsolidate power following the January 2011 uprising and insulate themselves from future antiregime mobilization. However, the incentives and motives of the chief actors and institutions have evolved over time.

Persistence of the Old Order

While the January 2011 uprising unsettled power relationships in the country, it failed to displace the central actors and institutions of the Mubarak regime that had little interest in liberalizing the public sphere. The revolution had been the product of disparate sociopolitical forces: both Islamists and non-Islamists had mobilized against corruption and repression, but the military establishment (led by the SCAF) had aimed to replace some of Mubarak’s policies while maintaining key elements of the status quo.285 In particular, the SCAF sought to ensure the military’s continued autonomy from and dominance over civilian politics. In the months following the transition, Egypt’s increasingly vocal civil society—which, for the first time, directly challenged Egypt’s coercive apparatus—represented a clear threat to the power of Egypt’s security services. As a result, the SCAF had little interest in acquiescing to greater civil society autonomy.286

Institutional continuity also partly explains the lack of progress for civil society during Morsi’s brief tenure. Egypt’s military and intelligence services—which relied on intimidation and repression as standard operating procedures over the past six decades—retained significant power behind the scenes.287 Many parts of the state bureaucracy remained virtually unchanged and continued to shape state policy vis-à-vis civil society, despite significant power struggles within specific institutions such as the judiciary.288 Institutional incentives played an important role: for those in the Ministry of Social Solidarity, monitoring and control of civil society represented their entire raison d’être. In addition, Morsi himself had little interest in pushing for greater civil society liberalization once in power. Not only did he need to carefully calibrate his relationship with the military, but he also knew that significant parts of civil society were opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda. Morsi’s ouster brought Egypt’s military establishment back to the fore of Egyptian politics, which moved quickly to consolidate its hold on power and prevent further antiregime mobilization and fragmentation of authority.

Reshaping of Egypt’s Assistance Relationships

The transition period also left in place a number of Egyptian policymakers who had long wanted to reshape Egypt’s relationship with international donors. Faiza Abou el-Naga, the former minister of planning and international cooperation, had been a strong advocate for giving Egyptian authorities greater control over aid allocation under Mubarak and often denounced what she perceived as foreign meddling in the country’s internal affairs.289 For Naga and other senior figures, the sudden influx of civil society assistance following Mubarak’s departure underscored the urgency of the issue—particularly since most of this funding was intended for what they considered illegal democracy promotion activities.290 Naga and her allies seized on the opportunity to launch an investigation into the external funding of nonregistered organizations that eventually led to the 2011 NGO raids and trial.291 The focus on foreign interference played well with the interim government and with the SCAF, which could bolster its internal legitimacy by arousing nationalist sentiments and blaming external foes for the difficulties of the transition period. It also resonated with the Egyptian public, as suspicions of foreign interference and concerns about Egypt’s dependence on the West are deeply engrained in Egyptian society.292 Subsequent administrations have replayed the same narrative, arguing that foreign funding for politically related civil society activities represents an affront to national sovereignty—in direct contrast to military and development aid channeled through state institutions.

Fear of Renewed Public Upheaval

Several factors explain the escalating repression since the military’s return to power in 2013. First, the nature of the ruling elite has changed, with the military and security agencies gaining dominance over the business elites that had played a key role under Mubarak.293 During the Mubarak era, the Egyptian government tried to maintain a facade of liberalism through the National Democratic Party and strategically limited the use of state violence to preserve the regime’s international and domestic alliances. In contrast, the Sisi regime relies on the need to restore order and security rather than the promise of gradual liberalization to justify its rule.294 Second, repression under Sisi has become more decentralized among competing security agencies, which has made it more difficult to control. Different security agencies are vying to maintain their institutional autonomy as the military is consolidating its power.295

Human rights groups have had to adjust to persistent attacks by downsizing or relocating their activities and shifting to more informal ways of operating.

Most importantly, the Egyptian military has learned its lessons from the January 2011 uprising and the chaotic period that followed. Having seen Mubarak’s model of partial liberalization backfire, its response has been to close off or restrict all possible avenues for opposition consolidation and citizen mobilization.296 Escalating repression ahead of key dates—such as the fifth anniversary of the January 25 protests—indicates that the Sisi government remains deeply paranoid about the potential for popular mobilization, partly because it believes many of its own conspiracy theories.297 The regime’s profound sense of insecurity is reinforced by Egypt’s continued economic and security woes, which have weakened Sisi’s popularity and highlight the regime’s lack of political vision.298 In this context, both extrajudicial violence and the increasing institutionalization of repression can be seen as preemptive measures to protect the regime from future vulnerabilities.


After a brief period of rapid expansion following the January 2011 uprising, Egyptian civil society has once again been weakened by state repression—although many groups continue to fight back. Human rights groups have had to adjust to persistent attacks by downsizing or relocating their activities and shifting to more informal ways of operating. The government’s persistent persecution of all Muslim Brotherhood–affiliated entities has crippled local charities, while development and humanitarian groups have struggled to access resources for their work. The sense of cohesion that characterized Egyptian civil society after the 2011 revolution has dissipated, with the exception of a close-knit circle of human rights organizations that continue to collaborate closely.299

Consequences of the Crackdown

A Suffocated Human Rights Community

Before the January 2011 uprising, approximately sixty Egyptian organizations were actively involved in defending human rights and political freedoms.300 These groups exerted significant pressure on ruling elites by issuing reports on governmental abuses, providing public commentary, and pursuing strategic litigation in the courts. Since then, funding cuts, defamation campaigns, and government interferences have significantly reduced their scope for action.301 Similarly as in Russia, repeated raids, investigations, and interrogations have drained activists’ time and resources and disrupted their activities and strategic planning, particularly since the reopening of Case 173.302 Organizations like the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which had hoped to expand their presence across the country, have instead been forced to scale back their plans, downsize from eighty to forty staff members, and focus on key priority areas.303 Many human rights defenders have invested most of their resources into defending and advocating for those detained and convicted under Egypt’s new repressive legal regime.304

The pool of available resources has drastically shrunk, pushing human rights groups to raise funds at the local level. Most groups have either struggled to secure government approval for foreign funding or decided internally to no longer accept such funds due to the associated risks.305 Over the course of the past year, asset freezes have also prevented prominent human rights groups from paying their rent, compensating staff, and resuming their regular activities.306 This was the case for the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, which works with grassroots communities to understand the issues facing Egyptian women and advocates for gender equality at the national level. With its funding currently blocked, the organization has struggled to pay its twenty-two employees.307 While organizations continue to survive with the help of international and local allies, these funding restrictions have put an abrupt end to the rapid expansion of human rights work that occurred in 2011.

Another key consequence has been the human rights community’s increasing disconnect from international forums. Many rights defenders can no longer freely travel abroad to attend meetings. For example, in November 2016, three renowned women’s rights activists—Aida Seif el-Dawla, a cofounder of El Nadeem; Azza Soliman, the head of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance; and Ahmed Ragheb, the director of the National Community for Human Rights and Law—were banned from traveling while on their way to attend international conferences.308 As a result of these travel bans, cross-regional coalitions that emerged in the wake of the Arab Spring have faltered, and partnerships with international organizations have become rarer. Egyptian activists note that Egypt’s internal challenges have made it difficult to monitor rights abuses and take part in political debates in neighboring countries.309

Fear of harassment and prosecution has led several organizations to reorient their activities. For example, just days before Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in November 2014, seven outspoken rights groups chose to withdraw from the review’s proceedings out of fear of reprisals and persecution.310 One Egyptian source said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered some NGOs “better treatment” if they did not attend the review session.311 In another example, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies canceled its annual training program on human rights, which it had held for students and graduates for the past twenty-two years.312 Explaining the decision in a published statement, the institute wrote, “It has become impossible to find a safe space for youth for learning and creativity. Prisons have become the fate of all those who care about public matters.” Smear campaigns against NGOs in pro-government media outlets have made public outreach more difficult and dangerous: activists report threats of violence from ordinary Egyptian citizens during public activities.313 Yet despite these obstacles, most human rights groups have vowed to continue their activities, even if it means shifting to increasingly informal networks and clandestine tactics.314

Repression of Faith-Based Charities

In addition to human rights organizations, faith-based groups have also faced harsh repression by the Egyptian state. Well aware that the Muslim Brotherhood built its network of supporters by providing social services at the local level, the Sisi regime is intent on closing this avenue for mobilization and preventing organizations from using “poverty for political gain.”315 The Ministry of Social Solidarity has shut down more than 1,500 religiously affiliated organizations. Most of them have been accused of alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. In May 2016, in the Governorate of Beheira, the ministry closed seventy-five NGOs and 121 childcare centers and nurseries, which it claimed had been affiliated with the Brotherhood.316 The closures prompted officials to declare the governorate to be “free of any associations which receive foreign funding.” In some cases, the Ministry of Social Solidarity has ordered the offices and finances of the targeted organizations to be expropriated and channeled into a ministerial fund aimed at supporting “legally recognized” civil society groups.317

The main consequence of this trend has been a growing gap in service provision, as many of the groups in question provided essential support to poor and marginalized communities.318 For example, one prominent target has been the El Gameya El Shareya, an Islamic-based charity offering medical support to the poor. At its peak, the association operated thirty medical centers and maintained more than 1,000 branches in the most economically deprived parts of Egypt.319 It played a particularly crucial role in rural villages that are largely beyond the reach of state services. Yet shortly after the military’s return to power, Egyptian authorities accused the group of spreading radical Islam, and an Egyptian bank froze its bank account. Although it successfully fought the funding freeze in court, the terrorism accusations have tarnished the association’s domestic and international reputation. It now operates at a third of its original capacity.320 Other development-focused religious charities, such as Resala and Sonaa Hayat, have faced similar charges and are now struggling to stay afloat.321 They have had to increase their reliance on volunteers and cut back their hours, leaving local residents without the support they had come to rely on. There is little indication that the government is stepping in to fill the gap: Egypt’s 2017 budget failed to meet constitutionally required minimum spending thresholds on health and education, and existing social programs cover only a small fraction of those in need.322

Fewer Resources for Development and Humanitarian Work

Even nonreligious and apolitical development and humanitarian organizations struggle in the current context, particularly as a result of the funding shortage for civil society work. Given the uncertainty of Egypt’s current legal framework, many international donors have cut back their support for Egyptian organizations out of concern that they will be accused of offering illegal support to NGOs.323 Registered development organizations that submit requests for funding approvals to the Ministry of Social Solidarity have in many cases never heard back or have had their funding turned down, even when the projects in question appear to be in line with the state’s development objectives.324

Even nonreligious and apolitical development and humanitarian organizations struggle in the current context, particularly as a result of the funding shortage for civil society work.

As a result, they have been forced to either operate illegally and risk prosecution or stop working altogether. For example, Al Mawred Al Thaqafy (Culture Resource), an organization devoted to helping poor and marginalized communities participate in cultural and artistic activities, suspended its work in November 2014 because it feared prosecution for its receipt of foreign funds.325 The El-Gora Community Development Association, which served thousands of Bedouin in the Sinai peninsula, suffered the same fate.326 At least two Egyptian development organizations—Caritas and the New Woman Foundation—have won court cases against the Ministry of Social Solidarity after the latter repeatedly denied requests for foreign funding.327 In the case of Caritas, Egyptian authorities argued that funding from the group’s partner organization in Germany represented a threat to Egypt’s national security and threatened to destroy Egyptian society. If enacted, the new NGO law would further institutionalize this type of reasoning by granting Egyptian authorities the right to stop any civil society activity viewed as contradicting official policies or goals. The law is also likely to reinforce divisions between those organizations willing to work with the government on development issues and those that refuse to do so out of principle.328 The Ma’an for Developing Slums Foundation, which focuses on development in informal areas, has already announced that it will close down after the law is enacted; and other groups are likely to follow.329

Private Egyptian foundations, which had initially filled part of the gap left by the decrease in foreign funding, have also proved less willing to fund any projects that could attract the ire of the government.330 Yet the current Egyptian legal framework prevents NGOs from making up the loss in funding with income-generating activities. When the Youth Association for Population and Development set up a bookstore to help generate revenue and reduce its dependence on external support, it faced significant bureaucratic hurdles, and the initiative was eventually shut down by Egyptian authorities.331 Similarly, the online collaborative learning platform Tahrir Academy, which offered educational content to Egyptian students based on crowdsourcing volunteer efforts, announced that it was halting its activities after it was prohibited from raising funds by creating content for private companies.332

Independent social development and cultural organizations provide a space in which civic participation and local leadership can flourish. As a result, they are deemed threatening by Egyptian authorities, who view them as forums in which citizens forge connections and may learn to challenge existing authorities.333 This might explain why government officials have closed down a number of community groups with no apparent political agenda or religious affiliation, resulting in a further decline in services for marginalized communities.334 For example, security officers shut down three branches of the Karama public library, which provided cultural programming in poor neighborhoods.335 The library was founded by rights activist Gamal Eid, and the closure was in all likelihood a retaliatory move against him. In May 2014, Egyptian police also raided the Belady Foundation, which worked with street children in Cairo, and arrested the two cofounders as well as six volunteers.336 They were accused of running an unlicensed organization and sexual abuse, among other charges. The initiative had in fact aimed to provide street children with access to education, sports, and art and had been previously celebrated in the media as an example of innovative civic volunteerism. The case of the Belady Foundation highlights the scope of the Egyptian government’s crackdown, which extends far beyond traditional human rights groups.

Adaptation Strategies

Pushback and Resilience

While the small circle of highly proactive human rights organizations has borne the brunt of state repression since 2013, these groups have paradoxically been better positioned to persist in the face of repeated government interference. International support networks as well as close collaboration have provided some layers of protection over the past several years. For example, rapid domestic and international mobilization of international support seems to have contributed to the speedy release of human rights activist and journalist Hossam Bahgat in November 2015 and the release of lawyer Malek Adly after three months of detention in September 2016.337 Human rights organizations have consistently and jointly advocated against further civil society restrictions at the national and international levels and managed to delay a number of restrictive NGO draft laws that were proposed between 2011 and 2015. They have also continued to protest prison conditions and the use of military courts, detention without trial, and police violence. In a number of cases, activists have successfully fought back against office closures and funding rejections in the courts. However, the government’s persistent harassment and the escalation of Case 173 throughout 2016 and early 2017 highlight the limits of these strategies.

Registration, Closure, and Relocation

Egyptian organizations have also faced difficult choices regarding their strategy of resistance or cooperation with state authorities. After the Sisi government ordered all civil society groups to reregister with the Ministry of Social Solidarity, some independent groups—such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms—chose to comply, hoping to end their legally ambiguous status and protect their staff and volunteers.338 However, registration has not protected them from further government investigations and harassment. Others, such as the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, ignored the deadline at the risk of possible legal penalties or attempted to register only to have their application rejected.339 Rather than splintering over diverging tactics, Egyptian human rights groups supported each other in their respective strategies, affirming—in the words of rights activists Gamal Eid—that “tactical differences don’t affect the unity of our goals.”340

Several groups decided to circumvent the increasingly repressive environment by relocating their offices and staff abroad. For example, in 2014, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies—which has worked on fostering connections between Arab human rights groups for the past twenty years—decided to move its regional and international programs to Tunisia in response to increasing government pressure, while keeping a small group of employees in Cairo. Partners of the institute, including UN officials, had been repeatedly detained at the airport and arbitrarily deported by state officials, making the organization’s work increasingly difficult.341 The organization’s fears proved justified when the government raided the remainder of the institute’s Cairo office in June 2015.342 Its director, Bahey eldin Hassan, chose not to return to the country after receiving multiple death threats.343 Journalists, academics, artists, and students have also left the country since the clampdown on civil society escalated in 2013 and 2014. At least three prominent rights groups have decided to quietly phase out their advocacy activities and legal assistance work after receiving threats from intelligence officials.344

Enduring Mobilization

Over the past two years, the Egyptian human rights community has struggled with the question of how to move forward, in light of the looming threats of prosecution and closure. Some have considered adapting their organizational structures and mandates to make themselves more resistant to government repression. Egypt’s traditional human rights community consists primarily of highly specialized and professionalized organizations. While none of these NGOs has fully transitioned to a membership model, many organizations are exploring new funding models that could generate greater community buy-in. For example, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression has relied on a broad network of academics that finance the organization’s legal support work for the student movement.345 Other groups have doubled down on their legal defense work while transferring advocacy activities to noninstitutionalized groups.346

Older human rights groups have forged new linkages to emerging movements like No to Military Trials of Civilians and Freedom for the Brave, as well as informal youth initiatives in Upper Egypt and the Delta region.347 These initiatives have primarily been driven by students and youth activists and have taken shape largely without formal organizational structures. For example, the Freedom for the Brave coalition was created in early 2014 to defend political prisoners and monitor conditions in Egyptian prisons. The campaign relies heavily on social networks and media to disseminate information, and many of its monitoring, documentation, and advocacy activities take place online.348 More informal coalitions and initiatives have also emerged in the social development realm. For example, citizens have started organizing at the local level to close the gaps in service provision resulting from the government crackdown on faith-based charities and associations. Villagers have formed local organizations that connect people in need with organizations or individuals that can offer help. There are reports of increasing numbers of people joining such grassroots charity efforts, as many remain wary of associating themselves with embattled charities and NGOs.349

Other spheres of Egyptian society continue to generate political mobilization, despite widespread repression. For example, the student movement has survived mass arrests, new administrative rules, and attempts to control student union elections. While student mobilization on university campuses has declined since 2014–2015, recent student council elections at the University of Cairo saw the victory of a coalition of students belonging to anti-authoritarian revolutionary movements.350 The election demonstrated that universities continue to be a space for resistance against the current government. Over the past three years, a number of trade unions and professional associations have also emerged to play an active role, repeatedly clashing with authorities over security service interference. Both the journalists and the doctors syndicates have led protests, with the latter mobilizing against systematic police attacks against individual physicians in the largest public assemblies since the 2013 coup.351 In a few instances over the past two years, citizens have also come together to publicly protest specific incidents or policies, such as police brutality in Luxor.352 These protests have generally occurred spontaneously and without the direct involvement of established civil society organizations. In a few cases, they have resulted in arrests and convictions of security officials involved in abuses—but these instances of increased accountability due to citizen anger and mobilization remain the exception rather than the rule.353

International Responses

The United States’ response to the escalating crackdown on civil society in Egypt took shape against the backdrop of a long-standing strategic partnership between the two countries. When Egyptian authorities began suppressing foreign-funded and international civil society organizations, the United States repeatedly struggled to balance its interest in maintaining a cooperative working relationship with the Egyptian military with its desire to sanction clear violations of democratic procedures and human rights. This dilemma resulted in mixed diplomatic messages that increasingly alienated all sides of the Egyptian political spectrum. Efforts to revise the EU’s relationship to Egypt following the Arab Spring also did not result in increased use of political conditionality, partly due to the lobbying efforts of southern member states. Instead, the EU has struggled to influence Egypt’s post-2011 reform dynamics and often followed the United States’ lead.

A Disrupted Status Quo

The popular uprising of January 2011 disrupted the status quo in U.S.-Egypt relations. Since the signing of the 1978 Camp David Accords with Israel, Egypt has been one of the United States’ most important allies in the Middle East, perceived as central to U.S. security concerns in the region. After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid, receiving an average of $1.3 billion a year since 1987.354 Military aid to Egypt has taken two forms: foreign military financing, which allows Egypt to purchase U.S.-manufactured military equipment; and international military education and training, which allows Egypt to purchase U.S. training and maintenance kits. In return, Egypt has assisted regional counterterrorism efforts and facilitated the passage of U.S. naval vessels through the Suez Canal. The United States has also justified aid to Egypt as an investment in sustaining the March 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which normalized relations between the two countries. While the Bush administration introduced a greater emphasis on political reform and civil society aid into the U.S.-Egyptian bilateral relationship, it did not review U.S. security assistance to the Egyptian military.355

Intent on distancing himself from his predecessor’s controversial Middle East policy, Obama focused his first term on improving relations with Egypt’s leadership.356 As a result, the United States appeared to be caught off guard when anti-Mubarak protests began in January 2011. There were significant divisions within the administration over how best to respond. Obama gradually moved to embrace the pro-democracy movement and called on Mubarak to step aside. Following Mubarak’s resignation, the Obama administration and Congress reprogrammed $165 million in already appropriated economic aid to support Egypt’s economic and political transition.357 In March 2011, the USAID office in Cairo began soliciting grant proposals from Egyptian civil society organizations and provided funding to at least thirty-five groups—many of them in rural areas.358

European powers were similarly unprepared for the Arab uprisings. Since 2004, the EU had developed its relations with Egypt within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy. Despite the policy’s formal promise of political conditionality, EU member states often used their political and economic weight to push for cooperation on trade, migration, and counterterrorism issues while sidestepping questions of democratic reform.359 Following Mubarak’s ouster, European leaders after initial hesitations vowed to transform their approach to the region. Yet despite mobilizing financial support for Egypt’s nascent democratic process and civil society, the EU struggled to remain relevant in Egypt’s post-2011 reform dynamics, in which the United States played a much more significant role.360

A Muted U.S. Response to the 2011 NGO Crisis

When the transitional SCAF regime began its smear campaign against foreign-funded civil society organizations, the United States was slow to react. Egyptian leaders openly accused the Obama administration of violating Egyptian law by channeling money to nonregistered groups, including the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. Behind the scenes, Egyptian officials assured U.S. representatives that American organizations operating in Egypt would not be affected.361 As a result, the United States chose not to respond publicly to the Egyptian investigation into foreign funding in the fall of 2011.362 The U.S. Congress appropriated the standard amount of $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in economic aid, as Obama had promised after Mubarak’s ouster.363 However, Congress added various certification requirements, which mandated that the secretary of state certify that Egypt was upholding the 1979 treaty with Israel, carrying out the transition to a civilian government, and protecting minority rights. These requirements could be waived by the Secretary of State if this was deemed in the national security interest of the United States.

Despite the escalating rhetoric of the preceding months, the raids of several U.S.-based international NGOs on December 29, 2011, took U.S. officials by surprise. The United States publicly condemned the raids, and the SCAF initially promised that the confiscated equipment would be returned and the organizations’ activities would be allowed to resume.364 These promises did not materialize. Instead, Egyptian officials barred the American and European NGO workers in question from leaving the country and initiated criminal proceedings against them. Throughout February and early March 2012, U.S. officials negotiated in secret with Egyptian authorities to allow the non-Egyptian staff—who had for the most part taken shelter at the U.S. embassy in Cairo—to leave the country.365 Behind closed doors, the United States threatened to withhold bilateral aid and implied that it would obstruct an impending International Monetary Fund loan to the Egyptian government. Egyptian authorities eventually lifted the travel ban on March 1, after the United States had paid a total of $5 million in bail for seven Americans. Yet the court case against the NGO workers nevertheless proceeded.

Divisions Over U.S. Assistance

The crisis triggered heated debates over U.S. assistance to Egypt. Many U.S. officials believed that the Egyptian authorities’ unprecedented action warranted a strong response. Others argued that cutting off aid or other drastic measures would potentially strengthen those forces within the Egyptian ruling apparatus that were the instigators of the crisis.366 For example, key players in the Obama administration emphasized that the SCAF may not have been the driving force behind the raids.367 Several U.S. legislators nevertheless firmly advocated against waiving the certification requirements for U.S. military and economic aid in light of the ongoing NGO trial.368 Despite this congressional opposition, secretary Clinton issued the waiver in March 2012, thereby allowing the next tranche of U.S. aid to be delivered for the first time since October 2011. Justifying the waiver, the U.S. Department of State released a statement noting that the United States had “a huge number of interests and equities at stake” with Egypt and that “rather than talking about leverage, we’re talking about partnership.”369

At the time, the administration’s logic may have been that it was not worth jeopardizing its relationship with a rapidly changing Egypt over an issue that in its eyes had essentially been resolved once the foreign NGO workers left the country. U.S. officials may have calculated that the transition was still advancing and that canceling aid would have imperiled rather than helped the reform process. However, the debate within the administration on how to respond was unusually contentious. Clinton herself argued for a partial waiver to permit some assistance to go through while keeping sufficient pressure on the Egyptian military to stick with the assistance timetable. Others in the State Department argued for withholding all new military aid until the case was fully resolved.370

But given the looming payment deadline, both the White House and the Defense Department pressured for the release of aid. The Pentagon in particular insisted that existing contracts with American arms manufacturers should be met: breaking the contracts could have shut down production lines at Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, and the costs would have been carried by the American taxpayer. In addition, a significant number of U.S. jobs would have been endangered in the middle of Obama’s reelection campaign.371 Most members of Congress, on the other hand, opposed this decision. Senator Patrick Leahy, who had added the certification requirements to the appropriations bill, called the decision a regrettable return to “business as usual.”372

A Passive European Response

The United States was not the only country affected by the 2011 crackdown. Egyptian security forces also raided the German Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, and the targeted NGO workers included several European citizens. The European response for the most part mirrored the U.S. approach of trying to maintain a positive working relationship with the SCAF government while pushing for continued political reforms. Yet few European embassies had direct links to the SCAF, and there was a sense among European policymakers that they wielded little influence over the transition process—a perception that led to further passivity.373

Germany was most directly implicated in the crisis. The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung had been working in Egypt for more than thirty years with the permission of the Egyptian government, and the German government vigorously rejected the accusations leveled against the organization.374 It summoned Egypt’s ambassador in Berlin to protest the raid, and the German Parliament passed a unanimous resolution demanding that Egypt stop the attacks against the foundation and other NGOs.375 However, the German government nevertheless decided to continue aid flows to Egypt. In addition, German officials reportedly attempted to cut a deal with the Egyptian security services to have the foundation excluded from the NGO trial in exchange for German diplomatic support—an attempt that, albeit unsuccessful, infuriated Egyptian activists.376

The crisis proved to be a landmark moment. While it is impossible to determine in retrospect whether a more forceful response before and after the raids would have changed the Egyptian authorities’ course of action, it is likely that the Egyptian security establishment interpreted the weak response as a signal that it could move ahead with further repressive measures. European powers appeared marginalized and unwilling to push back against the SCAF regime with any great force. The U.S. government had failed to prove or exercise any leverage in a situation that directly endangered U.S. nationals and organizations, and this signaled that the United States would continue to prioritize its strategic relationship with the Egyptian military over human rights concerns. The Egyptian authorities had also effectively manipulated Western powers: by repeatedly delaying hearings and promising speedy resolutions, they strategically extended the NGO trial to ensure that international attention moved to other issues.377

Back to Business as Usual

During Morsi’s brief presidency, the Obama administration focused on supporting Egypt’s fragile democratic process without backing any particular political force. It hoped that by working with a democratically elected Islamist leader, it could demonstrate the United States’ commitment to Egypt’s political transition and push the Muslim Brotherhood to forge a greater political consensus.378 The administration’s response to escalating rights violations and democratic setbacks remained relatively weak—even as Obama grew increasingly frustrated with Morsi’s power grabs.379 Whereas the White House prioritized the normalization of relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, the U.S. Congress advocated for a more hostile stance. During Morsi’s tenure, Congress passed fifteen resolutions aimed at cutting or freezing Egypt’s aid—with limited success. The State Department once again quietly waived the certification requirements to allow the disbursement of Egypt’s assistance, despite the conviction of American NGO workers shortly beforehand.380

Rather than engaging public confrontation, the EU relied on quiet diplomacy to push the Muslim Brotherhood toward greater inclusiveness.

On the European side, officials were deeply concerned that they not be viewed as interfering in Egypt’s escalating tensions between Islamists and the military and secular forces. Rather than engaging public confrontation, the EU relied on quiet diplomacy to push the Muslim Brotherhood toward greater inclusiveness. At the same time, it decided that EU funds should not be withheld, despite the lack of progress on tangible political reforms (disbursements ended up being held up by economic rather than political conditionality).381 Germany also made efforts to restore its bilateral relationship. It struck a deal with Egyptian authorities to welcome Morsi in Berlin in exchange for the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s return to Egypt. Yet these diplomatic openings were hardly rewarded: the agreement was declared null after Morsi’s high-profile visit, leaving German leaders with the sense that they had been deceived.382 Germany nevertheless released 172 million euros in development aid.383 Merkel and Westerwelle strongly criticized the sentencing of forty-three international NGO workers shortly thereafter, angry that Egyptian reassurances had failed to protect the German political foundations. But they remained ambivalent when asked about further aid restrictions.384 In private, diplomats noted that Egypt was considered too important an ally to be abandoned.385

Mixed Signals After the Military’s Takeover

The Egyptian military’s forceful return to power in mid-2013 highlighted the tensions between Western powers’ security interests and efforts to support the country’s democratic transition. When the military overthrew Morsi’s increasingly embattled government, the United States largely stepped back and let events run their course. The Obama administration did not issue a strong statement in support of Morsi, nor did it call the intervention a military coup—which would have legally required a suspension of military aid. The State Department argued that it did not need to make a public determination on whether a coup had happened. This stance was significant as it signaled that in the face of regularly changing Egyptian governments, the U.S. administration was leaning toward prioritizing its relationship with the military in pursuit of long-term American interests. While EU ministers denounced the military’s intervention, they also did not use the term coup, partly to avoid contradicting the U.S. stance.386

As the situation in Egypt escalated with massacres against pro-Morsi protesters in July and August 2013, the U.S. government was hesitant to impose strong punitive measures. After the first mass killing on July 8, it halted the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets but emphasized that the move was not intended as a punishment and that there would be no implications for continued military-to-military cooperation.387 The decision was recognized as relatively insignificant on both sides, particularly in light of the administration’s assurances. As violence in Egypt escalated, Obama canceled the biannual joint military exercises and strongly condemned Egypt’s security forces yet stopped short of announcing any suspension of aid. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham traveled to Egypt and conveyed the warning that further assistance might be stopped if the crackdown continued, but their efforts seemed to have little effect.388 By the end of August, top national security aides recommended that a significant amount of aid be withheld until a democratically elected government returned to power.389 However, it was not until October that the United States announced the suspension of the delivery of F-16 fighter jets, tank kits, Harpoon missiles, and Apache helicopters, “pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.”390 The EU was equally slow to respond. Most EU aid had already been put on hold in the absence of an International Monetary Fund deal, and EU member states were divided on further aid cuts (although they did revoke export licenses for some military equipment).391

The U.S. government may have been hesitant to freeze aid out of concern that doing so would cut off any remaining leverage that the United States still had over Egypt’s generals or drive Egypt further away from the United States into the hands of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Its apparent solution to this dilemma was to impose a partial aid cut while at the same time reassuring the Egyptian military of Washington’s continued commitment to the bilateral relationship. The result of this middle route was a profoundly inconsistent policy message. U.S. officials repeatedly played down the significance of the partial aid cuts. Former secretary of state John Kerry congratulated Egypt’s military leaders on implementing the roadmap “that everybody has been hoping for” and did not publicly address the new draft protest law that had been introduced two weeks before his visit.392 While then secretary of defense Chuck Hagel stressed the need for political inclusiveness in more than twenty-five phone calls to Sisi following the coup, he also opposed the suspension of military aid.393 To maximize leverage, aid cuts would have to have been far reaching and coordinated with European nations and other donors. Instead, for the year-and-a-half duration of the weapons suspension, the vast majority of U.S. military assistance continued to flow.394

Normalization Amid Decreasing Leverage

The muddled handling of the post-coup crackdown set the tone for subsequent U.S. and EU responses to the civil society restrictions that followed. Two key trends emerged over the subsequent year: First, Western governments seemed to have little leverage over the regime’s overall authoritarian trajectory, partly because they repeatedly prioritized normalizing their relationship with Egyptian partners and resumed previous aid flows even as the situation within the country worsened. Second, international pressure at times proved effective at temporarily delaying further repressive measures by the Egyptian authorities, for example by denouncing human rights violations at international forums.

During 2014 and 2015, international attention subsided as the Egyptian authorities’ attention turned from foreign NGOs to Egyptian groups and activists. The United States proceeded to normalize relations with the Egyptian regime—despite the fact that the latter continued to stir up anti-American sentiments at home. Following Sisi’s victory in the presidential election, Kerry released $575 million in aid that had been frozen for nearly a year.395 The administration also lifted the suspension on the sale of Apache helicopters without securing any significant human rights concessions. The 2015 appropriations bill in fact loosened some conditions applied in the previous year, despite the accelerating crackdown within the country. In 2015, the United States resumed the delivery of F-16s, relaunched the U.S.-Egypt strategic dialogue, and announced that it would resume joint military exercises—without significant concessions by the Egyptian government. Critics also noted that a number of these decisions were strategically unnecessary but imparted the Egyptian regime with legitimacy and prestige.396 For example, the United States has continued supplying Egypt with heavy weaponry that is of limited use in the fight against terrorism—while doing little to prevent the abuses that are fueling radicalization in Egypt’s prisons.397

External pressure may have successfully delayed repressive measures at various points in time. During the fall of 2014, U.S. and European pressure reportedly contributed to warding off the Egyptian government’s planned mass closure of nonregistered civil society organizations. The United States expressed its concerns over the repression of activists and demonstrators in a statement submitted during Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations, which angered the Sisi regime.398 When human rights defender Hossam Bahgat and newspaper owner Salah Diab were arrested in November 2015, immediate international pressure by the United States, the UN, and others likely contributed to their rapid release.399 However, these successes remained temporary: subsequent developments showed that Egyptian authorities had not allowed more space but had simply delayed or shifted their tactics. In addition, European and U.S. efforts to solidify economic ties with the Egyptian government—for example, by organizing a large investment conference for American businesses that coincided with the reregistration ultimatum imposed on Egyptian civil society—often appeared to nullify statements of concern.400

High-level officials have continued to speak out against the crackdown, particularly since the reopening of Case 173. In March 2016, Kerry issued a forceful statement of concern following the reopening of legal proceedings against foreign-funded NGOs, thereby attracting the ire of Egyptian parliamentarians.401 This past year, the EU and the German Foreign Office also expressed their concern about the repression of human rights organizations in Egypt, and the European Parliament called on the European External Action Service to “develop urgently a strategy” to respond to the reopened NGO investigations.402 However, these public pronouncements have not translated into substantive policy changes or direct pressure on Egyptian officials. For example, when Kerry met with Sisi a few weeks after his statement of concern, he mostly expressed solidarity and only vaguely referenced differences regarding “the international politics and choices for the people of Egypt,” rather than directly speaking out against the NGO restrictions.403 Nor did the NGO investigations come up during his July 2016 meeting with Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry, which once again focused on counterterrorism and economic issues.404

The new U.S. administration has signaled that it will not prioritize democracy and human rights concerns in its bilateral relations with Egypt and will focus instead on forging closer counterterrorism ties. In April 2017, President Donald Trump officially welcomed Sisi in Washington, DC—an honor that the Obama administration had consistently denied him. During the visit, Trump failed to publicly raise the ongoing crackdown on civil society in the country, highlighting instead issues of mutual agreement and cooperation.405 At the same time, he did not promise additional U.S. assistance or commit to restoring cash flow financing, which would allow the Egyptian government to once again pay for U.S. defense equipment in multiyear installments.406 A number of U.S. senators also marked Sisi’s visit by cosponsoring a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Egypt. After several years of tensions over the appropriate balance between human rights and security concerns in U.S. policy toward Egypt, it remains to be seen whether Washington will revert back to a strategy of unconditional support or whether the United States will eventually begin questioning Egypt’s value as a counterterrorism partner. At the moment, a shift in U.S. policy that would prioritize the concerns of Egyptian civil society activists and organizations appears unlikely.


199 Miranda Sissions, “Egypt: Margins of Repression—State Limits on Nongovernmental Organization Activism,” Human Rights Watch, July 3, 2005,

200 Sarah E. Yerkes, “State-Society Relations After the Arab Spring: New Rulers, Same Rules,” Democracy & Society 9, no. 2 (Summer 2012), 9.

201 “Backgrounder: The Campaign Against NGOs in Egypt,” Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), February 10, 2012,

202 Ibid., and Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Margins of Repression.”

203 Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Margins of Repression.”

204 Catherine E. Herrold, “NGO Policy in Pre- and Post-Mubarak Egypt: Effects on NGOs’ Roles in Democracy Promotion,” Nonprofit Policy Forum 7, no. 2 (2016).

205 Viviane Fouad, Nadia Ref’at, and Samir Murcos, “From Inertia to Movement: A Study of the Conflict Over the NGO Law in Egypt,” in NGOs and Governance in the Arab World, eds. Sarah Ben Nefissa and Carlos Milani (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 2005).

206 Ehaab Abdou et al., “How Can the U.S. and International Finance Institutions Best Engage Egypt’s Civil Society?” Brookings Institution, June 2011,; and Herrold, “NGO Policy in Pre- and Post-Mubarak Egypt.”

207 Nadine Sika, “Civil Society and Democratization in Egypt: The Road Not Yet Traveled,” Democracy & Society 9, no. 2 (2012): 29.

208 Todd Ruffner, “Under Threat: Egypt’s Systematic Campaign Against NGOs,” Project on Middle East Democracy, March 2015,; and Sarah Carr, “Despite Cabinet Shakeup, One Mubarak-Era Minister Remains Firmly in Place,” Egypt Independent, July 24, 2011,

209 Maha M. Abdelrahman, Civil Society Exposed: The Politics of NGOs in Egypt (I.B. Tauris, 2004), 108.

210 Herrold, “NGO Policy in Pre- and Post-Mubarak Egypt.”

211 Mohamed Elagati, “Foreign Funding in Egypt After the Revolution,” Arab Forum for Alternatives, FRIDE, and Hivos, 2013, 6,

212 Ibid., 2.

213 Yerkes, 10.

214 Nancy Okail, “Rights Groups Face a Withering Assault in Egypt,” Freedom House, September 11, 2013,

215 Yerkes, 10.

216 Sharif Abdel Kouddous, “Egypt Escalates Repression Against Human Rights Groups and NGOs,” Nation, November 12, 2014,

217 Ann M. Lesch, “The Authoritarian State’s Power Over Civil Society,” in Egypt and the Contradictions of Liberalism: Illiberal Intelligentsia and the Future of Egyptian Democracy, eds. Dalia F. Dahmy and Daanish Faruqi (London: Oneworld Publications, 2017).

218 Yerkes, 9.

219 Ibid, 10.

220 Sherif Mansour, “Stifling the Public Sphere: Media and Civil Society in Egypt,” National Endowment for Democracy, October 2015,

221 Kristen Chick, “Why Egypt Is Angry Over $65 Million in US Democracy Grants,” Christian Science Monitor, August 12, 2011,

222 Stephen McInerney, “The SCAF’s Assault on Egypt’s Civil Society,” Foreign Policy, September 28, 2011,

223 “Egypt Country Summary,” Human Rights Watch, January 2012,

224 Peter Beaumont and Paul Harris, “US ‘Deeply Concerned’ After Egyptian Forces Raid NGO Offices in Cairo,” Guardian, December 29, 2011,

225 Associated Press, “Defendants’ Names in NGO Funding Case Revealed as US Warns Egypt,” Egypt Independent, February 6, 2012,

226 Sarah el-Sirgany, “Politicized Verdict May Sway Brotherhood on Egypt NGO Law,” Al-Monitor, June 13, 2013,

227 “Freedom and Justice Party Supports Role of NGOs as Essential to Democratic Process,” IkhwanWeb, February 20, 2012,

228 El-Sirgany, “Politicized Verdict May Sway Brotherhood on Egypt NGO Law.”

229 International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), “The Muslim Brotherhood on the State of Civil Society and Civil Society Law in Post-Mubarak Egypt,” International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law 4, no. 1 (April 2013).

230 Catherine Shea, “Egypt’s Morsi Continues Pursuit of New Civil Society Restrictions,” Freedom House, June 18, 2013,

231 “Egypt: New Draft Law on Assault on Independent Groups,” Human Rights Watch, May 30, 2013,

232 “Judge Imposes Gag Order on NGO Foreign Funding Case,” Mada Masr, March 21, 2016,

233 John Pollock, “Future of Egyptian Civil Society,” Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, July 21, 2012,

234 Ibid.

235 Adel el-Adawy, “Egypt’s Multiple Power Centers,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, January 17, 2014,

236 Daniel Brumberg, “The Resurgence of the Egyptian State,” in “Egypt’s Political Reset,”Project on Middle East Political Science, July 23, 2013, 16.

237 “Egypt: Rampant Torture, Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions Signal Catastrophic Decline in Human Rights One Year After Ousting of Morsi,” Amnesty International, July 3, 2014,

238 “Egypt Court Bans Muslim Brotherhood ‘Activities,’” BBC News, September 23, 2013,

239 Erin Cunningham, “Egypt’s Military-Backed Government Declares Muslim Brotherhood a Terrorist Organization,” Washington Post, December 25, 2013,

240 “434 Muslim Brotherhood NGOs Shutdown,” Daily News Egypt, July 8, 2015,

241 Amr Hamzawy, “Egypt’s Anti Protest Law: Legalising Authoritarianism,” Al Jazeera, November 24, 2016,

242 Brad Youngblood and Noor Hamdy, “Why Is Egypt Amending Its Protest Law Now?” Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, August 16, 2016,

243 Patrick Kingsley, “Egypt Places Civilian Infrastructure Under Army Jurisdiction,” Guardian, October 28, 2014,

244 Ruffner, 13.

245 Ibid., 14.

246 Ibid., 4.

247 Ian Cash, “Egypt Daily Update: NGO Registration Deadline Passes; U.S. Delegation Meets With Sisi,” Project on Middle East Democracy, November 10, 2014,

248 “Egypt NGOs ‘Robbed of Independence,’” Al Jazeera, September 22, 2014,

249 Mahmoud Mostafa, “EIPR to Register Under ‘Flawed’ NGO Law, Will Continue to Work to Replace It,” Daily News Egypt, December 22, 2014,

250 Patrick Kingsley, “Egypt’s Human Rights Groups ‘Targeted’ by Crackdown on Foreign Funding,” Guardian, September 24, 2014,

251 Ruffner, 1–2.

252 Elissa Miller and Margaret Suter, “Case No. 173: The State of Egypt’s NGOs,” Atlantic Council, March 29, 2016,; and “Judicial Harassment of Hossam Bahgat,” Frontline Defenders, last updated September 20, 2016,

253 Ahmed Aboulenein, “Egyptian Court Approves Asset Freezes in High-Profile NGO Trial,” Reuters, September 17, 2016,

254 “Egypt: Prominent Women’s Rights Activist Arrested in Worrying Escalation,” Amnesty International, December 7, 2016,

255 Hussein Baoumi, “Bricks in the Wall: El Nadeem, the NGO Law, and Egypt’s Crackdown,” The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, February 10, 2017,

256 El-Sayed Gamal el-Din, “Egypt Imposes Gag Order on NGOs in Foreign Funds Case,” Ahram Online, March 22, 2016,

257 “CIHRS and AFTE Appeal Interior Ministry Decree Which Effectively Transforms Egypt’s Borders Into Prison Walls,” Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), December 6, 2016,

258 Ibid.

259 “Egypt: Lift Abusive Arbitrary Travel Bans,” Human Rights Watch, November 2, 2016,

260 See, for example, “Egypt: Human Rights Watch Delegation Refused Entry,” Human Rights Watch, August 11, 2014,

261 “Authorities Interrogate Alexandrian Rights Lawyer Mohamed Ramadan,” Mada Masr, December 6, 2016,

262 “Case History: Yara Sallam,” Frontline Defenders, September 25, 2015,

263 “Egyptian Government ‘Increases Human Rights Violations’ Under Trump,” Egyptian Coordination of Rights and Freedoms (ECRFEG), February 2, 2017,

264 Sharif Abdel Kouddous, “Prominent Human Rights Activists in Egypt Targeted by Sophisticated Hacking Attacks,” Intercept, February 2, 2017,

265 Amina Ismail and Declan Walsh, “Hundreds Vanishing in Egypt as Crackdown Widens, Activists Say,” New York Times, January 26, 2016,

266 “Egypt: ‘Officially, You Do Not Exist’—Disappeared and Tortured in the Name of Counter-Terrorism,” Amnesty International, July 13, 2016,,10.

267 Jannis Grimm, “Repressing Egypt’s Civil Society: State Violence, Restriction of the Public Sphere, and Extrajudicial Persecution,” Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, SWP Comments no. 41, August 2015,

268 Aswat Masriya, “Egypt: FCO Says ‘Restrictions on Civil Society Worsened’ in Egypt in 2nd Half of 2016,” AllAfrica, February 10, 2017,; and “Rights Group Says 107 Egyptian Were Killed by Police Forces in February,” ECRFEG, March 7, 2017,

269 Ismail and Walsh, “Hundreds Vanishing in Egypt as Crackdown Widens.”

270 “Authorities Interrogate Alexandrian Rights Lawyer Mohamed Ramadan,” Mada Masr.

271 “Egypt: ‘Officially, You Do Not Exist,’” Amnesty International, 47.

272 Bahey Eldin Hassan, “Does Egypt’s President Really Want to Fight Terrorism?” New York Times, April 12, 2017,

273 Amr Hamzawy, “Legislating Authoritarianism: Egypt’s New Era of Repression,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 16, 2017,

274 Ibid.

275 “Egypt: Court Names 1,500 to Terrorist List,” Human Rights Watch, January 24, 2017,

276 Amr Hamzawy, “New NGO Legislation Takes Egypt Down a Dangerous Path,” Washington Post, December 6, 2016,

277 Rana Mamdouh, “What Has Happened to the NGO Law?” Mada Masr, January 8, 2017,

278 Sarah el-Sheikh, “Parliament to Vote on Protest Law Amendments Amid Dissatisfaction of Some MPs,” Daily News Egypt, March 29, 2017,

279 Ibid., and Hend el-Behary, “Parliament Approves Government Amendments to Protest Law,” Egypt Independent, April 11, 2017,

280 Youngblood and Hamdy, “Why Is Egypt Amending Its Protest Law Now?”

281 Ahmed Aboulenein, “How Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissent Ensnared Some of the Country’s Top Judges,” Reuters, October 18, 2016,; and al-Masry al-Youm, “Senior State Council Judges to Meet Sisi Over Judicial Authority Crisis,” Egypt Independent, April 4, 2017,

282 David Risley, “Egypt’s Judiciary: Obstructing or Assisting Reform?” Middle East Institute, January 13, 2016,’s-judiciary-obstructing-or-assisting-reform.

283 Louisa Loveluck, “Why Egypt’s Conservative Judiciary Doesn’t Always Do Sisi’s Bidding,” Christian Science Monitor, May 8, 2015,

284 “Infinite Eyes in the Network: Government Escalates Attack on Secure Communication,” Mada Masr, February 10, 2017,

285 “The State of the Egyptian Revolution,” Project on Middle East Political Science, September 7, 2011,

286 Sahar Aziz, “What’s Behind the Egyptian Military’s Attacks on Civil Society?,” Foreign Policy, August 18, 2011,

287 Nathan J. Brown, “Egypt’s Wide State Reassembles Itself,” Foreign Policy, July 17, 2013,

288 Ibid.

289 “Backgrounder: The Campaign Against NGOs in Egypt,” POMED.

290 Aziz, “What’s Behind the Egyptian Military’s Attacks on Civil Society?”

291 Sarah Carr, “Despite Cabinet Shakeup, One Mubarak-era Minister Remains Firmly in Place.”

292 Nicola Pratt, “Human Rights NGOs and the Foreign Funding Debate in Egypt,” in Human Rights in the Arab World,eds. Anthony Tirado-Chase and Amr Hamzawy (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 114–26.

293 Maged Mandour, “Repression in Egypt From Mubarak to Sisi,” Carnegie Middle East Center, August 11, 2015,

294 Ibid.

295 Maged Mandour, “Has Sisi Lost Control Over State Repression?” Open Democracy, June 22, 2015,

296 Michael Wahid Hanna, “Egypt Adrift Five Years After the Uprising,” Century Foundation, January 24, 2016,

297 Ibid.

298 Ahmed Aboulenein, “Egypt: Who’s Afraid of January 25?,” Reuters, January 21, 2016,

299 Herrold, 207.

300 Elagati, 8.

301 “Egypt: Renewed Crackdown on Independent Groups,” Human Rights Watch, June 15, 2015,

302 CIHRS, “CIHRS and AFTE Appeal Interior Ministry Decree Which Effectively Transforms Egypt’s Borders Into Prison Walls.”

303 Lina Attalah, “Human Rights in Focus: Gasser Abdel Razek,” Mada Masr, April 15, 2015,; and Rania Al Malky, “The Egyptian Government Is Waging a War on Civil Society,” Guardian, October 14, 2015,

304 Kouddous, “Egypt Escalates Repression Against Human Rights Groups and NGOs.”

305 Ruffner, 7.

306 “Hostages: Human Rights Defenders in Egypt 2016,” Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), December 11, 2016,

307 “Taking Back Justice With Grassroots Women in Egypt,” Global Fund for Women, April 29, 2016, modified June 9, 2016,

308 “Egyptian Activist Aida Seif El-Dawla Banned From Travel: Nadeem Centre,” Ahram Online, November 23, 2016,

309 Interview with an Egyptian human rights activist, November 23, 2016.

310 Kouddous, “Egypt Escalates Repression Against Human Rights Groups and NGOs.”

311 Ruffner, 18.

312 “New Regulation Mandates NGOs Consult Ministry Security Department Regarding Activities,” Mada Masr, August 25, 2016,

313 Ruffner, 15; and an interview with an Egyptian human rights activist, November 23, 2016.

314 Lina Attalah, “While a Bad Year for Civil Society, All Vow to Find Ways to Continue,” Mada Masr, December 26, 2016,

315 Nicholas Linn and Emily Crane Linn, “Egypt’s War on Charity,” Foreign Policy, January 29, 2015,

316 “Social Solidarity Ministry Closes 75 NGOs, 121 Childcare Centers in Beheira,” Mada Masr, May 25, 2016,

317 “State Shutters 57 NGOs, a Total of 500 Closed This Year,” Mada Masr, September 8, 2015,

318 Al Malky, “The Egyptian Government Is Waging a War on Civil Society.”

319 Linn and Crane Linn, “Egypt’s War on Charity.”

320 Ibid.

321 ICNL, “Closing Civic Space: Impact on Development and Humanitarian CSOs,” Global Trends in NGO Law 7, no. 3 (2016),

322 Nancy Okail and Allison L. McManus, “Egypt Is Cracking Down on NGOs When It Needs Them Most,” Lawfare (blog), November 16, 2016,

323 Amr Emam, “In Egypt, NGOs See Funding Dry Up as Donors Grow Scared,” New America Media, June 10, 2012,

324 Ibid.

325 ICNL, “Closing Civic Space: Impact on Development and Humanitarian CSOs.”

326 Eliza Villarino, “In Egypt, a Funding Crisis Among Local NGOs,” Devex, June 11, 2012,

327 El-Sayed Gamal el-Din, “Egyptian Court Rules NGOs Have Right to Foreign Funding for Development,” Ahram Online, September 10, 2016,

328 “Al Sisi Meets With NGO Representatives to Enhance Cooperation With Government,” Daily News Egypt, January 4, 2017,

329 “Update: Egypt’s Parliament Passes New NGO Law,” Mada Masr, November 29, 2016,

330 Ruffner, 9.

331 Ehaab Abdou and Raghda El Ebrashi, “Social Enterprise Funding & Sustainability: The Need for Conducive Legislation in Egypt,” American University in Cairo, accessed April 17, 2017,

332 Mai Shams el-Din, “Tahrir Academy NGO Halts Its Activities,” Mada Masr, August 13, 2015,

333 Salma Islam, “In Egypt, Even Helping Street Children Can Land You in Prison,” Public Radio International, December 28, 2016,

334 “In Latest Crackdown, Social Solidarity Ministry Dissolves 10 More NGOs,” Mada Masr, August 12, 2015,

335 “Despite Promise by the Egyptian Nominee for UNESCO, the Political Police Shut Down a Third Al-Karama Library Branch in Zagazig,” ANHRI, December 21, 2016,

336 “25 Rights Groups: The Belady Foundation Case Demonstrates That Individual and Community Initiatives Face Only Repression and Fabricated Charges,” Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, February 3, 2016,

337 David D. Kirkpatrick, “Hossam Bahgat, Journalist and Advocate, Is Released by Egypt’s Military,” New York Times, November 10, 2015,; and “Good News! - Human Rights Defender Malek Adly Released,” Amnesty International, September 4, 2016,

338 Mostafa, “EIPR to Register Under ‘Flawed’ NGO Law.”

339 Erin Cunningham, “Under Egypt’s Sissi, Crackdown on Human Rights Groups Expands,” Washington Post, May 21, 2015,

340 Heba Afify, “Human Rights Groups in Focus: Gamal Eid,” Mada Masr, May 19, 2015,

341 “After 20 Years: CIHRS Moves Its Regional and International Programs Outside Egypt,” CIHRS, December 9, 2014,

342 “Egypt: Cease Harassment of Cairo Institute and Other Human Rights NGOs,” International Service for Human Rights, June 9, 2015,

343 Bahey Eldin Hassan, “Egypt’s Attack on Civil Society,” Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, October 14, 2016,

344 Ruffner, 17.

345 Attalah, “While a Bad Year for Civil Society, All Vow to Find Ways to Continue.”

346 Ibid.

347 Afify, “Human Rights Groups in Focus: Gamal Eid.”

348 Interview with an Egyptian human rights activist, November 23, 2016.

349 Linn and Crane Linn, “Egypt’s War on Charity.”

350 Interview with an Egyptian human rights activist, November 23, 2016.

351 For an in-depth overview of ongoing labor protests, student movements, and other forms of social activism in Egypt, see Amr Hamzawy, “Egypt’s Resilient and Evolving Social Activism,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 5, 2017,

352 “Protest in Luxor Over Police Brutality: Back to the Old Times,” Egyptian Chronicles (blog), November 28, 2015,

353 Hamzawy, “Egypt’s Resilient and Evolving Social Activism,” 25.

354 Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, March 24, 2017,, 13.

355 Amy Hawthorne, “Rethinking U.S. Economic Aid to Egypt,” Project on Middle East Democracy, October 2016,, 10.

356 Ibid.

357 Ibid., 11.

358 Ibid., and Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” 14.

359 Richard Youngs, “Europe’s Flawed Approach to Arab Democracy,” Centre for European Reform, October 2006, 2,

360 Rosa Balfour, “EU Conditionality After the Arab Spring,” European Institute of the Mediterranean, June 2012, 25,

361 Interview with an Egypt expert, November 9, 2016.

362 Ibid.

363 Benjamin Wolkov, “U.S.-Egyptian Relations Since the 2011 Revolution: The Limits of Leverage” (honors thesis, Brandeis University, April 29, 2015), 72,

364 Peter Beaumont and Paul Harris, “US ‘Deeply Concerned’ After Egyptian Forces Raid NGO Offices in Cairo”; and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Undercutting Vow of Softer Stance, Egypt Again Defends Office Raids,” New York Times, January 1, 2012,

365 David D. Kirkpatrick and Steven Lee Myers, “U.S. Defendants Leave Egypt Amid Growing Backlash,” New York Times, March 1, 2012,

366 Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt in Transition,” Congressional Research Service, February 8, 2012,

367 Josh Rogin, “State Department on Egypt: SCAF May Not Be Behind NGO Raid,” Foreign Policy, February 8, 2012,

368 William Wan and Ernesto Londono, “Egypt’s Aid From U.S. in Peril Amid Crackdown on Pro-democracy Groups,” Washington Post, February 4, 2012,; and U.S. Committee on Foreign Relations, “Egypt at a Crossroads: Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs,” U.S. Congress, February 16, 2012,

369 Victoria Nuland, quoted in “U.S. to Continue Aid to Egypt After NGO Crackdown,” All Things Considered (NPR), March 23, 2012,

370 Steven Lee Myers, “Once Imperiled, U.S. Aid to Egypt Is Restored,” New York Times, March 23, 2012,

371 Ibid.

372 Ibid.

373 Richard Youngs, Europe in the New Middle East: Opportunity or Exclusion? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 102.

374 Jonathan Moremi, “How Egypt’s President Tricked Germany’s Chancellor Merkel – Again,” Daily News Egypt, June 8, 2015,

375 Ibid.

376 Youngs, Europe in the New Middle East, 102.

377 Nancy Okail, “Injustice in Egypt,” U.S. News & World Report, December 16, 2016,

378 Danya Greenfield, Amy Hawthorne, and Rosa Balfour, “US and EU: Lack of Strategic Vision, Frustrated Efforts Toward the Arab Transitions,” Atlantic Council, September 2013, 5,

379 Greenfield, Hawthorne, and Balfour, “US and EU,” 6.

380 Joel Gulhane, “US State Department ‘Clarifies’ Military Aid to Egypt,” Daily News Egypt, June 8, 2013,

381 Youngs, Europe in the New Middle East, 102.

382 Moremi, “How Egypt’s President Tricked Germany’s Chancellor Merkel – Again.”

383 Youngs, Europe in the New Middle East, 104.

384 Mariam Iskander, “Merkel Questions Aid to Egypt,” Daily News Egypt, June 8, 2013,

385 Youngs, Europe in the New Middle East, 104.

386 Ibid.

387 Wan and Londono, “Egypt’s Aid From U.S. in Peril.”

388 Reza Sayah and Michael Martinez, “McCain Visits Egypt, Calls Ouster of President Morsy a ‘Coup,’” CNN, August 7, 2013,

389 Associated Press, “US to Cut Military and Economic Aid to Egypt in Shift of Policy After ‘Coup,’” Guardian, October 9, 2013,

390 Jen Psaki, “U.S. Assistance to Egypt,” U.S. Department of State, press statement, October 9, 2013,

391 Youngs, Europe in the New Middle East, 104.

392 Shadi Hamid, “Why Did We Suspend Aid to Egypt, Again?” Atlantic, November 13, 2013,

393 Jeffrey Goldberg, “Israel Pushed Iran to the Table, Says Hagel,” Bloomberg, November 4, 2013,

394 During the eighteen-month suspension period, Egypt still received $1.8 billion in assistance. Stephen McInerney and Cole Bockenfeld, “The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2016: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa,” Project on Middle East Democracy, May 2015,

395 “US Unlocks Military Aid to Egypt, Backing President Sisi,” BBC, June 22, 2014,

396 Obama also introduced a series of changes that in the long run could alter the U.S.-Egypt relationship, such as ending cash-flow financing and moving military aid areas such as border security and counterterrorism that are more central to U.S. interests. However, the effects of these are likely to only be felt in the long run and only if subsequent administrations follow through. Shadi Hamid, “Rethinking the U.S.-Egypt Relationship: How Repression Is Undermining Egyptian Stability and What the United States Can Do,” prepared testimony for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, November 3, 2015, 12,

397 Robert Kagan and Michele Dunne, “It’s Time to Take a Hard Look at the U.S. Relationship With Egypt,” Washington Post, April 2, 2017,

398 Keith Harper, “U.S. Statement at the UPR in Egypt,” Mission of the United States to Switzerland, November 5, 2014,

399 Interview with an Egyptian human rights activist, November 23, 2016.

400 Editorial Board, “In Egypt, Business as Usual,” New York Times, November 6, 2014,

401 John Kerry, “Human Rights Situation in Egypt,” U.S. Department of State, press statement, March 18, 2016,

402 Miller and Suter, “Case No. 173.”

403 Heather Murdock, “Kerry Visits Cairo as Egypt Investigates NGOs,” Voice of America, April 20, 2016,

404 John Kerry, “Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Hassan Shoukry,” U.S. Department of State, July 21, 2016,

405 Steve Holland, “Trump Tells Sisi U.S., Egypt Will Fight Islamist Militants Together,” Reuters, April 4, 2017,

406 Michele Dunne, “A Seesaw for Sisi in Washington,” Diwan (blog), Carnegie Middle East Center, April 13, 2017,