Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

NGOs await new draft law

A “surprise” draft law regulating NGO affairs has been prepared, reports Mona El-Nahhas

Ghada Wali
Ghada Wali
Al-Ahram Weekly

Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali says that the final copy of a draft law setting the parametres of the work and formation of NGOs is almost finished. Interviewed by the independent newspaper Al-Shorouk on 2 February, Wali said the views of ministries and civil society representatives who are concerned with the bill were taken into consideration.

The next step is to refer the draft law to the cabinet, which in turn will submit it to the House of Representatives for debate. Except for the five-member committee that is said to have prepared the draft, no one else has the slightest idea about the content of the would-be legislation or any of its articles.

Talaat Abdel-Qawi, chairman of the Federation of Civil Societies (societies that offer public services) and one of the bill’s drafters, said he expects the law to be endorsed by parliament “because it conforms with the constitution’s articles”.

Abdel-Qawi was quoted as saying that the law is a breakthrough in the history of civil society work.

But representatives of NGOs working in Egypt, especially legal organisations, complain that they know nothing about the draft and deny reports that they were part of a national dialogue about its articles.

Talking to the ONTV satellite channel on Friday, human rights lawyer Negad Al-Borei said the NGO draft law was prepared by the security apparatus, not the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

“The NGO draft law that Wali said would be a surprise is something unknown,” Al-Borei said, adding that no NGO representative participated either in its drafting or its discussion. “The way by which the draft was prepared casts doubt over the state’s dealing with us in the future.”

Legal activist Gamal Eid agreed with Al-Borei, saying the new legislation, shrouded in mystery, is expected to end the work of NGOs that normally side with the opposition.

“The state does not believe that NGOs should act as a real partner. It’s enough for them to be followers, carrying out instructions. Otherwise, they will be threatened with a shutdown decree or legal measures taken against their staff,” Eid told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The government shut down around 430 NGOs across Egypt and confiscated their assets for belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Government-ordered flight bans are seen by NGO representatives as a new pressure tactic being used against legal activists who have uncovered what they say are the regime’s wrongdoings.

Eid was last week prevented from boarding an Athens-bound flight after his name appeared on a no-fly list. Airport security staff did not provide him with a reason for the ban. Eid argued that he was not informed of the ban or the body that had issued it.

“It is the time for fabricating charges against legal activists,” Eid wrote on his Facebook page following his return from Cairo Airport.

“It is ridiculous to have my name included on a no-fly list without a specific charge or investigation,” Eid told the Weekly, adding that the flight ban is the least that could happen to opponents of the regime. “Compared with torture and enforced disappearances, one should be grateful to God,” Eid said sarcastically.

“Banning Eid from travelling is a violation of his constitutional rights, a return to the police state and contradicts the principle of the sovereignty of law,” legal activist Nasser Amin wrote on his Twitter account on Friday.

In June 2015, Egyptian rights activist Mohamed Lotfi, who is executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, had his passport confiscated and was prevented from going to Germany. Lotfi was due to speak at a parliament roundtable in Germany on the human rights situation in Egypt on the same day that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was about to begin an official visit to Germany.

In November last year, Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was detained for two days after he was summoned by the military prosecution for “publishing false and inaccurate information that harms national security”.

There are an estimated 40,000 NGOs in Egypt working in social, legal, charitable and cultural fields.

Following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in June 2013, the then-government of Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi expressed a desire to replace Law No 84/2002 governing the affairs of NGOs with a new bill that would guarantee the independence of such organisations.

A committee, including NGO representatives and officials of the foreign and international cooperation ministries, was formed by former minister of social solidarity Ahmed Al-Borei to draft the new legislation.

The committee prepared a draft law that won widespread consensus for conforming to international criteria and for striking a balance between the freedom of NGOs and the role of the state in dealing with illegal activities.

In June 2014 the draft law was to be reviewed as part of a national dialogue. However, NGOs were shocked to find a draft completely different from the one they had prepared. The presented draft was widely rejected for imposing further restrictions on NGO activities, allowing for what was described as flagrant interference by the security apparatus in the work of the Ministry of Social Solidarity and placing strict control over any foreign funds received by NGOs.

Faced with the NGOs strong rejection of the draft, the government had no choice but to withdraw the bill. Law 84/2002 continued until Wali gave her recent interview about the “new surprise draft”, which NGO representatives expect will be even more restrictive than previous legislation.

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