Egyptian civil society workers criticised the new Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Law the parliament passed on Tuesday, claiming that it would cripple their work
The controversial law is the first legislation to be actually prepared by the parliament, drafted by the head of the parliamentary Social Solidarity Committee Abdel Hady Al-Kasby.
MP Haitham El-Hariri had told Daily News Egypt Tuesday after the vote that no accurate vote count occurred, but that the approval of the law came by “a large number of MPs standing up.”
In further comments posted on his Facebook account, El-Hariri even called on President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to hinder the issuance of the law, according to constitutional Article 123.
The article gives the president the right to reject laws within 30 days from being notified of the parliament’s approval. Otherwise, the law becomes effective.
Criticism to the law emerged months ago, but was directed to a draft law prepared by the cabinet. Yet, the law seems to have been discreetly finalised and passed without discussion within one week.
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) submitted its comments on the law on Tuesday after receiving it from the parliament, according to Article 214 of the Constitution, which states that the NCHR “shall be consulted with respect to the bills and regulations pertaining to their affairs and fields of work.” NCHR’s recommendations however did not find its way into the law.
NCHR prominent lawyer Nasser Amin tweeted a few days before the law that it is catastrophic and more restrictive than previous laws.
“Passing the unconstitutional law means the destruction of all the components of civil society work, and the situation will get worse until the law is cancelled,” Amin tweeted on Tuesday.
Hafez Abu Seada, another NCHR senior member and director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) also issued comments on the law on 24 November, asserting that the law violates the Egyptian Constitution and international human rights conventions.
The EOHR objected to the law’s imposition of a unified organisational setup for all NGOs that includes respecting the Constitution, and not disturbing national security, general order, and public morality.
Moreover, it criticised bureaucratic procedures that could be manipulated to obstruct the registration process, as well as an EGP 10,000 funding capital, the risk of losing the licence over not having fixed headquarters, the difficulty to create branches without ministerial authorisation, the limitation of NGOs’ work in the fields of social development and care, and restrictions imposed on local and foreign funding.
All of the mentioned requirements in the law are to be performed by a national body formed by the president and including the memberships of the ministers of foreign affairs, defence, justice, interior, and international cooperation.
Moreover, representatives of the Intelligence Services, Central Bank of Egypt, Money Laundering Authority, and Administrative Control Authority should be included. “This is an unjustifiable interference in NGOs’ work and treats them as government affiliates,” the report stated.
Abdul Moneim Saeed, former head of the Regional Center for Strategic Studies—which recently shut down for financial reasons—published Wednesday an article which translates into “the downside in the NGOs Law,” in Misr El-Mahrousa, a website affiliated to the Ministry of Culture.
First, Saeed referred to the presidency-sponsored National Youth Forum held in October in Sharm El-Sheikh, which he argued provided an unprecedented level of free communication and exchange of different and opposing views.
“This is the spirit we need when approaching the NGOs law, which I hope that by the time this article is published, will not be issued by the parliament, Saeed wrote.
Saeed opined that although Egyptian laws were usually restrictive and not encouraging to the work of civil society organisations, more than 47,000 NGOs have been operating in the country. “But the parliament’s law is by far the worst of all time,” he wrote.
According to Saeed, the law was drafted with a mindset that ignored socio-political development needs, rather reflecting a paranoid state concerned with one topic only, namely foreign funding, which in reality only involves a limited number of human rights NGOs.
“It is surprising how this aspect alone is being used to undermine civil society as a whole and deprive the country from it. Honestly, the argument that this law aims at protecting the country’s national security from foreign interference is unacceptable,” he added.