Egypt parliament approved new draft NGO law - a continuation of state crack down on CSOs

Association 

On 15th July 2019 a new repressive NGO law, “The Law on Regulating the Work of Civil Associations”, was approved by the Egyptian parliament and sent to the President for approval. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has 30 days to review and if he ratifies, the legislation will come into effect.

The new law has been criticised by local and international groups who called on President al-Sisi to send the draft back to parliament to address its "fundamental flaws".

The new law was meant to amend and address the shortcomings of the current draconian NGO Law 70/2017, which imposes severe restrictions on CSOs, as reported continuously by the CIVICUS Monitor. Civil society remains concerned, however, that the new NGO law maintained the repressive characteristics of the 2017 NGO law that came under significant internal and international criticism for threatening to crush CSOs.

In a statement prior the adoption of the new NGO law, local and regional human organisations voiced serious concerns stating that the “the majority of changes in the draft NGO law are deceptive and superficial, and it retains the repressive aspects of Law 70”.

The local organisations also warned that the new law “contravenes Egypt’s constitution and international obligations, including the recommendations accepted by Egypt during its second Universal Periodic Review in November 2014”.

Regional and local civil society groups issued a joint statement, noting:

It [draft NGO law] is animated by the same underlying hostility to civil society organisations and seeks to subordinate them to the security apparatus.”

International human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch shared similar concerns with the newly proposed law.

Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director for Amnesty International, said:

“The draft new NGO law maintains some of the most draconian provisions of the 2017 law and includes only a handful of token cosmetic changes to address human rights concerns. It continues to grant the Egyptian authorities sweeping powers to dissolve independent human rights groups and criminalises legitimate activities of NGOs. The draft law will do little to end the climate of fear, repression and persecution faced by human rights defenders in Egypt.”

Main concerns with new draft NGO law 

While the new law removed prison sentence for violations it has maintained severe restrictions to CSOs’ work and to freedom of association.

The new draft law continues to put CSOs under excessive government control and to impose restrictions on organisations work, formation and access to resources. It imposes instead disproportionately high fines of up to one million Egyptian pounds (US$60,000) on CSOs, including fines for organisations that operate without a license or send or receive funds without government approval. According to the draft law, the National Agency to Regulate the Work of Foreign Non-governmental Organisations will be replaced with a Central Unit for Associations and Civil Work within the Ministry of Social Solidarity. The body will be responsible for the monitoring and oversight of domestic and foreign NGOs.

Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, raised concerns that the draft NGO law may be further sued to suppress independent CSOs:

“The restrictions in the new law coupled with Egyptian security agencies’ relentless crackdown on civil society demonstrates the Egyptian government’s intention to suppress independent groups.”

Under the draft law, CSOs are under threat of being suspended for up to one year by the competent ministry, which can also request a court to order organisations’ dissolution or dismissal of directors. The draft law prohibits a number of activities, including conducting opinion polls and field research, and publishing their findings, unless approved by the Central Authority for Public Mobilization and Statistics (Article 16). The law also prohibits activities that are seen to infringe upon public order or morals, national unity, and national security (Article 16). CSOs have raised concerns over the broad language used in the provisions that may be used to deny registration of any organisation based on concerns of “national security, public order, public morals.” The law does not define these terms. As noted by Human Rights Watch, “Egyptian authorities have routinely and widely used such terms to criminalize and prosecute activities that fall within granted rights in the Egyptian constitution and international law such as peaceful protests, consensual sexual conduct, and artistic activity.” See further detailed concerns of specific articles of the new draft NGO law here.

An Egyptian human rights activist noted:

“the newly confirmed law may seem to allow establishment of new NGOs easily right after the notification process, however it added a strict rule that requires the full confirmation from the administrative authority without any forms of objection.”