Saturday,18 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1368, (9 - 15 November 2017)
Saturday,18 November, 2017
Issue 1368, (9 - 15 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Addressing Washington’s NGO law concerns

Egypt’s controversial NGO law was the focus of last week’s meetings between Egyptian and American lawmakers in Washington, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

 

MPs visiting the United States last week hoped to contain tensions triggered by Washington’s decision to cut aid to Cairo after parliament passed an NGO law which US officials said undermined democracy.

“The delegation explained that the NGO law could only be amended after it is implemented,” Mohamed Al-Sewidi, leader of the pro-government Support Egypt parliamentary bloc, told a press conference on Monday.

“The executive regulations of the new NGO law — passed by parliament in November 2016 — have not yet been issued, meaning the law has not been implemented till now,” said Al-Sewidi.

According to Al-Sewidi, most US Congress members who met the delegation thought the law was already being aplied.

“Our meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, which was attended by US House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, was positive. We were able to correct the misperception the law is already in force, and reassured them parliament would amend the legislation if, once implemented, it negatively impacts on the performance of NGOs.”

The delegation told leading Congress officials that the NGO law not only follows international conventions but was drafted in response to public demands.

“The public have long questioned the mechanisms by which NGOs receive foreign funds and they are spent,” said Al-Sewidi. “No government in the world allows domestic organisations to receive money from abroad without knowing the source of the cash and how it is spent.”

The MPs told their American counterparts many NGOs which used to receive foreign funding don’t want to be transparent and comply with the new law.

A statement issued by the delegation on 2 November, following the meeting with Ryan, noted that Egyptian MPs had informed US congressional leaders the main objective of the new law was to ensure NGO funding did not fall into the hands of terrorists. They pointed out some NGOs collect money under religious slogans in violation of the constitution.

The delegation also expressed concern over the way Washington’s decision to cut $100 million and delay another $200 million in economic and military aid was made public.

“We told them we could not be friends of the United States if Washington decides to once again resort to the language of threats,” said Al-Sewidi.

Washington has been providing Cairo with an average of $1.5 billion a year in military and economic assistance since 1979, when Egypt signed the peace treaty with Israel.

 According to the statement, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal made clear that a cut to US financial aid may undermine ties between the two allies at a time when US support for Egypt’s fight against terrorism is needed.

“Speaker Abdel-Aal explained that cutting US aid to Egypt not only reflects differences of opinion between the two on certain issues but could actively harm relations,” said Al-Sewidi.

“US military and economic assistance to Egypt should be a matter of dialogue not the focus of threats and counter-threats.”

During the visit it was suggested an Egyptian-American parliamentary friendship association be established to exchange information between lawmakers on issues of mutual concern in a transparent way.

“I hope the visit will help correct misperceptions about Egyptian-American relations. They are now aware some media outlets publish unreliable information about internal conditions in Egypt,” Al-Sewidi told reporters on Monday.

Al-Sewidi said the delegation’s meeting with former US presidential candidate Ted Cruz addressed the issue of whether the Muslim Brotherhood should be designated a terrorist organisation in the US. MPs argued such a move was long overdue.

The parliamentary delegation’s one-week visit to Washington began on 27 October. Led by Abdel-Aal, the delegation included Al-Sewidi, head of the Foreign Relations Committee, Tarek Radwan, head of the Budget Committee, Hussein Eissa, Ahmed Saadeddin, Mohamed Al-Sallab, Karim Darwish, Amr Sedki and Marian Azer.

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