CAIRO (AP) — Rights groups in Egypt braced for a possible crackdown as a government-issued ultimatum for them to register under a restrictive law expired Monday.
By nightfall, there was no immediate government action against a number of groups that have declined to register under a law issued by Egypt's longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak or face possible prosecution. The 2002 law gives the state sweeping authority over their activities and financing.
The government claims the ultimatum is a straightforward issue of law enforcement, but many rights groups view it as a direct threat amid a widespread crackdown on government critics.
Speaking to the website of the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram, the minister of social solidarity, in charge of civil groups, said nine foreign groups and eight Egyptian ones had applied to register before the deadline expired. It is not clear how many organizations operate outside of the law. But most groups working in the human rights field had previously found alternate ways to register to avoid government interference. The government says over 40,000 civil groups are registered under the law.
The minister, Ghada Waly, told Al-Ahram that her ministry has no intention of extending the deadline and that a count of those groups that have not registered is currently being made. Each group will be dealt with according to their situation, Waly said without elaborating, leaving the threat of prosecution or closure hanging over those groups. International rights groups and governments had urged Egypt to repeal the ultimatum altogether.
In a statement Monday, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights — one of the oldest rights groups in Egypt which is registered under the restrictive law — called on the government to extend the registration deadline so the law could be revised to comply with the constitution.