UPDATE: On Tuesday, November 29, the NGO law was passed within the Egyptian parliament with a two-thirds majority. It will now go to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for approval. TIMEP continues to condemn the law’s passage and calls on the Egyptian government to recognize this legislation as unconstitutional and respect NGOs as a critical partner at a challenging time for Egypt’s economy and security.
UPDATE: On Monday, November 28, the NGO law was approved by the Legislative Department of the State Council. It has been sent back to parliament without substantive change for an additional review and vote before being sent to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for final approval. The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) continues to condemn the law’s passage and calls on the Egyptian government to recognize this legislation as unconstitutional and respect NGOs as a critical partner at a challenging time for Egypt’s economy and security.
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights condemn Egypt’s new nongovernmental associations law, which was approved by the Egyptian parliament on Tuesday. The new 89-article law on civic organizations, which was drafted by Egypt’s House of Representatives, is a much more restrictive bill than the one proposed by the cabinet in September, which seems to have been abandoned in favor of the current legislation.
While the September law was rejected by rights organizations on account of a wide swathe of concerns—most notably the unconstitutional power given to the security apparatus to challenge the formation of an NGO—the current law is much more alarming. The new bill makes registration mandatory and allows permission to operate to be withheld if activities are deemed harmful to national security, a term that is broadly defined and can be abused to constrain legitimate activity. In a joint press statement issued Tuesday, local political parties and civil society organizations expressed their rejection of the law. The bill stipulates the creation of a body called the “National Agency for the Regulation of Foreign Nongovernmental Organizations,” which includes representatives of the military, the General Intelligence Directorate, the Ministry of Interior, and other ministries and government entities. The agency holds authority over the entirety of the work of international NGOs, along with funding and cooperation between Egyptian associations and any foreign body. The bill also includes concerning funding regulations, stipulating that the Ministry of Social Solidarity must be notified of domestic donations and funding 30 days prior their receipt; the agency reserves the right to reject foreign funding for a 60-day period after funds are deposited, during which these funds may not be disbursed without facing possible dissolution. If no approval is given in that 60-day period, the request is considered denied. Additionally, the law gives the government the authority to monitor and challenge any NGO’s internal activities, however insignificant. This extends from choices in leadership to the schedule for internal meetings. Even a change as slight as moving headquarters to another building without informing authorities is punishable by the law.
Beyond the concerns associated with the new legislation’s unprecedented restrictions on civil society are other worries regarding the punitive measures for violation of the provisions. Those who conduct NGO work without registration or collaborate with international organizations without approval are subject to prison sentences of up to five years and fines of up to one million Egyptian pounds (about $65,000). The law also holds NGOs’ management personally liable for violation of any of the aforementioned measures.
The new legislation violates domestic and international legal obligations to guarantee the freedoms of expression, association, and movement. The Egyptian constitution guarantees NGOs the right to establish themselves without prior approval and via a mere notification procedure, a right that is nullified by the provisions of the law that criminalize NGO work without registration. Beyond the violation of domestic and international obligations is the effect that these repressive activities have on Egypt’s stability.
The latest iteration of Egypt’s NGO law is unlike any of its predecessors. While previous laws and regulations hampered civil society’s functionality, this legislation raises larger concerns regarding the sustainability of a free and independent society in Egypt. The Egyptian government is currently struggling to deal with both an economic and security crisis, issues that have yielded instability in the form of rising demonstrations—often violent—and terror attacks. The stipulations and punitive measures noted above make it practically impossible for NGOs to work as a partner to the government in addressing these crises. As such, the government risks losing institutional channels for dissent and valuable human development initiatives, which has the potential to exacerbate an already tenuous stability.
The law is being submitted to the State Council, followed by another review and vote within parliament before being sent to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for final approval.
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.