Friday,24 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1323, (8 - 14 December 2016)
Friday,24 May, 2019
Issue 1323, (8 - 14 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

NGO law approved by parliament

Parliament approves a new NGO law amid criticism from local and international human rights organisations. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 29 November two thirds of MPs approved an 89-Article Law, drafted by the House of Representatives’ Social Solidarity Committee, regulating the activity of NGOs.

The law, which has been reviewed by the State Council, empowers the president to appoint the head of a National Foreign NGOs Regulation Apparatus (NFNRA) – the new watchdog body which will be responsible for supervising the operations of foreign NGOs in Egypt and monitoring sources of foreign funding for foreign and local NGOs. NFNRA will report to the cabinet.

Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs that "the State Council had recommended Article 75 of the law be amended to state clearly the process by which the secretary-general of the NFNRA is chosen".

"In response the Social Solidarity Committee amended Article 75 of the law to state clearly that the naming NFNRA's secretary-general was a presidential prerogative. Under Articles 153 and 216 of the constitution the president of the republic is allowed to appoint the heads of regulatory bodies."

The Ministry of Social Solidarity opposed the creation of NFNRA, arguing that it should oversee NGO regulatory activities given its long experience in dealing with civil society organisations.

In a letter sent last week to MPs the ministry warned that the creation of NFNRA would be a costly bureaucratic move that the government, which is struggling to reduce the budget deficit and implement administrative reforms, could ill afford.

MPs ignored the letter, arguing a new watchdog was necessary to detect any foreign funding of disruptive political activity conducted by NGOs under the pretence of promoting democracy.

Article 70 of the new law stipulates that foreign NGOs seeking to work in Egypt must first secure the approval of NFNRA: "This regulatory body will take charge of overseeing the activities of foreign NGOs in Egypt, including all forms of cooperation with governmental and non-governmental institutions, as well as supervising all forms of foreign funding given to local Egyptian NGOs and civil society organisations."

After gaining the approval of a majority of MPs, Abdel-Aal said parliament had taken “an historic step towards regulating the operation of NGOs on a basis that will safeguard national security and help boost domestic development”,  adding he was confident the new law “serves civil social organizations while simultaneously safeguarding national security”.

The NGO law first won the approval of a majority of MPs in a plenary session on 15 November after which it was referred to the State Council-affiliated Department of  Legislation and Fatwas to be revised in constitutional and legal terms.

Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, head of the Social Solidarity Committee which drafted the law, expressed dismay that "some foreign players attempted to exert pressure on parliament to change some of the articles of this law”.

"We rejected all of these attempts and worked day and night to issue a law that bolsters national security and closes the door to any suspicious funding."

Mohamed Al-Seweidi, head of the pro-regime Support Egypt Coalition, argues the new law will encourage NGOs to focus on development.

"We worked hard to guarantee the law will satisfy all those working in the NGO field. We bore in mind proposals from the State Council and the General Union of NGOs and also accepted some of the amendments proposed by the Social Solidarity Ministry," he said.

"One of the key last-minute amendments was to place NGOs under the supervision of the Central Auditing Agency not the Ministry of Justice-affiliated Illicit Funds Apparatus.”

MPs also responded to the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s request that NGOs be allowed a one-year grace period rather than the six months included in the initial draft to make any necessary adjustments to their legal status.

Another last-minute amendment raised the minimum capital required to register as an NGO from LE10,000 to LE50,000.
“The General Union of NGOs argued that increasing the figure to LE50,000 would weed out flippant requests for licensing," said Al-Qasabi.

The new law has been widely criticised by international and local human rights organisations.

The London-based Amnesty International said the law undermines civil society in Egypt.

Amany Qandeel, a civil society expert, argues the legislation embraces an exclusively security agenda. "Even if we accept that some foreign funding of NGOs went towards triggering unrest in the past this does not justify such blanket restrictions being placed on all foreign funding," says Qandeel.

Qandeel also believes the penalties stipulated by the law for those breaking the regulations – they include prison terms of up to five years – are too draconian.

MP Haitham Al-Hariri, a member of 25/30 Coalition, posted a statement on his Facebook page asking President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi not to ratify the "restrictive" and "undemocratic" law.

Wafdist MP Fouad Badrawi told Al-Ahram Weekly "some development-focussed NGOs which were licensed in the past, switched to political activities without seeking prior approval.”

"It was important for the new NGO law to address this trend and ensure NGOs focus on developments rather than use foreign money to fund political activities,” said Badrawi.

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