Civil society state relations in the highly authoritarian context of Egypt have always been volatile, constantly under ebb and flow. However, sometimes for NGOs, it is more difficult to read the signs of the times: are we going through an ebb or a flow? The political scene for NGOs is very different in 2009 than a decade ago. An even more restrictive NGO law is in place, and there is more state intervention in the day to day running of organizations – yet some NGOs report being able to get things done faster and more efficiently than before, as well as being able to engage more openly in contentious politics.
Human rights organisations in particular report being able to address more critically and more openly human rights abuses committed by some of the more ‘sensitive’ political and governmental actors. I was perplexed: how could it be true that there’s more political repression of civil society, but at the same time many NGOs report more freedom to act, affect and engage? The immediate word that came to my mind was co-option. Perhaps NGOs have been co-opted by the government in corporatist relations. This may apply for some NGOs, but it certainly does not characterise the whole diverse NGO sector. Nor does it apply to the many NGOs that I have been closely involved in.
The main change in the past decade has been that the role of the State SecurityInvestigations apparatus (SSI) in governing NGOs has expanded. The SSI is the domestic intelligence agency, which is part of the Ministry of Interior.