“By discouraging the formation of a vigorous civil society, they also strike a fundamental blow to the sustainability of freedom and democracy in Egypt over the long term,” she writes on the CFR’s Development Channel:
A range of historical examples demonstrate that broad-based, peaceful, and sustained civil society movements are a crucial factor in helping young democracies consolidate and endure. In our new book Pathways to Freedom, my colleague Isobel Coleman and I consider eight countries that have recently navigated economic and political transitions with varying degrees of success. In many cases, civil society groups—and popular engagement more broadly—played a critical role in bringing autocracy to an end and establishing robust and lasting democracy in its place.
Poland’s Solidarity movement, for example, “nurtured a generation of citizens and leaders who could participate in and oversee the new democratic government once it emerged,” while South Africa’s broad-based antiapartheid movements “succeeded in building the foundation for strong civil society organizations committed to democratic governance and accountability.”
But Egypt’s NGO convictions and draft NGO law submitted by the presidency to the Shura Council amount to a major setback to its transition and they are likely to undermine the quality of any subsequent democracy.
“Civil society groups play a crucial role in building and sustaining democracy following messy and complex transitions toward more open societies,” argues Lawson-Remer, a Fellow for Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy:
In Pathways to Freedom, we find that one of the most effective steps that policymakers can take in the early stages of transitions is to strengthen the rule of law in ways that allow civil society to flourish. It is ironic that the government of President Mohamed Morsi, having come to power through a citizen uprising and popular vote, now seeks to shut down citizen engagement through arrests, trials, and new and more draconian legal restrictions on civil society organizations.