Church agency backs Egyptian workers' rights campaign

By staff writers
August 27, 2007

The UK-based international development agency Christian Aid is protesting that a labour organisation it works with in Egypt has been refused permission to officially register its organisation. This is the latest blow to its ability to carry out crucial work in defending workers’ rights in the country.

The Centre for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS) said the decision is contrary to the notion of independent non-governmental action and further limits dialogue in a country where civil rights are under threat.

CTUWS submitted registration documents to Egypt’s Social Solidarity Directorate in June only to be informed sixty days later that their application to be registered as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) had been refused on ‘security’ grounds.

No clear reason or justification was given.

This is the latest in a series of oppressive administrative and security measures taken against the organisation. Earlier this year its branch offices throughout Egypt were shut down; central security forces then surrounded the CTUWS’ head office in southern Cairo, sealed the door with red wax and removed its electricity meter.

"How is it possible for a society which doesn’t recognise the rights of its citizens to independent movement and which is surrounded by emergency laws and administrative and security [bodies], to be stable?" asked a CTUWS lawyer who cannot be named due to fear of reprisal.

"Is it possible for the citizens of such a society to enjoy belonging to and participating in building and developing their country?", the lawyer continued.

CTUWS has been besieged by administrative interventions from the government which render them unable to effectively play their role in social defence, monitoring and lobbying of government bodies.

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation, for example, has made calls to state authorities to take action against CTUWS for ‘motivating strikes’ due to its involvement with trade union movements.

In a country where factory working conditions are often very poor, and wages unstable, strikes are sometimes a necessary and legitimate protest by workers.

CTUWS maintains it simply defends the legitimate right of workers to strike, if necessary. The right of association, to form trade unions and NGOs is enshrined within international human rights.

CTUWS, as a member of the National Civil Society Alliance to Monitor Elections had monitored the results of a controversial referendum on changes to Egypt’s constitution in March 2007, which many feared could severely curtail civil liberties and erode human rights in Egypt.

The Egyptian government maintained the changes to the constitution would ‘strengthen democracy’ but many organisations voiced their concerns about the new laws which would ban certain political parties and give sweeping powers of arrest and surveillance to the police.

The president would also be able to dissolve the parliament unilaterally. CTUWS’ report on the referendum process highlighted a number of infringements which it believed had taken place in the constituencies it was monitoring.

CTUWS was founded seventeen years ago to provide services and legal advice to workers. It has won a number of human rights awards for its role in defending people’s rights.

CTUWS is urging all powers that be to call for an annulment of the decisions to close its headquarters and refuse its registration, so it can resume and develop its activities.

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