Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1367, (2 - 8 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Parliamentary talks in US

A nine-member delegation from the Egyptian parliament was in the US for talks with Congress members and think tanks, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

 

A parliamentary delegation in the US on a week-long visit discussed Egypt’s new NGOs and Qatar’s funding of terrorism with US Congress members and think tanks. The delegation, headed by Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, discussed Egypt’s new NGOs law, religious freedom for Coptic Christians, and funding of terrorism in the Middle East and the Arab world.

In their meeting with Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan, the delegation stressed that Egypt’s NGOs law, passed by parliament in November last year, does not restrict the performance of NGOs and civil society organisations in Egypt. Abdel-Aal indicated the law mainly aims at securing transparency in terms of funding and performance. “We want the funding and activities of NGOs in Egypt to be as transparent as possible so that they do not find themselves implicated in funding terrorism or harming the country’s national security,” said Abdel-Aal.

The delegation also held discussions with Speaker of the US Senate Orrin Hatch.

In a meeting with the Middle East Institute in Washington DC on Tuesday, Abdel-Aal addressed a closed-door symposium on Egypt’s internal political conditions that he said the NGO law is in line with international conventions on human rights and civil society organisations. “This law aims to secure three objectives: tightening supervision on foreign funding of NGOs, monitoring the activities of NGOs and how they spend their money, and subjecting NGOs to state-imposed rules on auditing and accountability,” said Abdel-Aal.

Abdel-Aal, however, clarified that Egypt’s 89-article law, passed by parliament on 29 November 2016, has not yet been implemented. “The executive bylaws of this legislation have first to be drafted and parliament will not hesitate to amend it if implementation showed it would restrict the performance and freedoms of NGOs in Egypt,” Abdel-Aal said.

Egypt’s NGOs law has faced criticism since it was passed. Three high-profile US senators — former presidential candidates John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio — have sharply attacked it. While McCain and Graham said in a joint statement that the law is the latest sign of a growing crackdown on human rights and peaceful dissent in Egypt, Rubio said it would badly affect the independence of NGOs in Egypt. McCain even warned that the law would impact US assistance to Egypt.

Many believe that Washington’s decision in August to cut $100 million and delay another $200 million in military and economic aid to Egypt was a direct result of pressure from senators like McCain and Graham. Cairo described the decision as a misjudgement of the strategic relations between Cairo and Washington.

Sources said the agenda of the Egyptian parliamentary delegation in Washington included meetings with McCain and Graham, heads of the US House’s committees on foreign affairs, intelligence, and majority and minority leaders in Congress.

Abdel-Aal’s meeting with the Middle East Institute in Washington also covered the issue of funding terrorism. A statement said Abdel-Aal was keen to explain the dangers of terrorism emanating from countries disrupted by civil wars, including Libya and Syria.

Abdel-Aal was also keen to alert the Middle East Institute to the dangers of countries sponsoring terrorism and funding media channels which support political Islam and jihadist movements, the statement said. “We face a fourth generation of media wars which aims to break the morale of nations by publishing flawed reports on Egypt’s internal situation and giving political cover to terrorist organisations,” he said.

Informed sources said the meeting covered Qatar’s role in funding terrorism and extremist TV channels and the decision of four Arab countries, among them Egypt, to cut diplomatic relations with Qatar in June this year in response to its role in sponsoring terrorist activities.

The delegation’s meeting with the Middle East Institute also focused on the rights of minorities in Egypt, especially Christians. Sources said Abdel-Aal was keen to refer to the new Church Building Law which helps facilitate the construction of churches in Egypt.

Mike Pence, the US vice president, said last week that he will visit Egypt at the end of December to discuss a range of issues with Egyptian officials, on top of which will be religious freedoms for Coptic Christians.

The Egyptian parliamentary delegation began its visit to the United States on Friday. In New York, the delegation held a meeting with Egyptian expatriates living in the US.

The delegation also held a meeting with the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce in New York. The meeting focused on economic reforms which the government adopted a year ago as part of a deal with the IMF and the role of the new investment law in making Egypt a more attractive investment destination, the statement said.

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