Amnesty International has called the new draft law which regulates non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Egypt “a new low” on NGO restrictions.
NGOs fear the draft law, if enacted, will restrict their activities in Egypt with accordance to state desires. Amnesty said the move to “prohibit national NGOs’ contact with foreign organisations without prior permission from security bodies represents a new low for freedom of association”. NGOs advocated for contrary legislation which would limit state-control over their work.
Nagwa Hussein Khalil, the Minister of Insurance and Social Affairs who made the final draft, had said earlier this month that the ministry had refused NGOs request, adding that the ministry does not intent to impose restrictions on NGOs or to dominate them. Instead, she said, the ministry wants to organise the sector to make it more effective.
According to Amnesty, the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights had received a letter from the ministry saying no local entities are permitted to engage with “international entities” without the permission of security bodies, as per the prime minister’s instructions. The wording of the letter, of which Amnesty has obtained a copy, uses general and vague language in reference to “international entities. This vagueness, Amnesty said, “is likely to include both international human rights organisations and [United Nations] bodies”.
“NGOs in Egypt already face staggering restrictions, but this instruction is a new low,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “It is a disturbing indicator of what may lie ahead for human rights groups in the government’s new law.”
The draft law, Amnesty says, serves to tighten restrictions and in some cases, “severely limits the ability of NGOs to conduct fact-finding visits and other essential activities, as well as further restricts funding”.
The draft law proposes an NGO must have EGP 250,000 in order to legally register with the government, as opposed to the current EGP 10,000. The number of people needed to be able to open an NGO in Egypt is also proposed to double, from 10 to 20. Amnesty says current laws already present numerous obstacles for registration and foreign funding.
“We fear that the authorities are yet again trying to push through legislation to stifle civil society to prevent criticism,” said Hadj Sahraoui.
In 2011 the government began an investigation into the source of funding received by several NGOs. As a result several organisations were the target of a series of raids, resulting in 43 staff members of international organisations being put on trial for receiving foreign funds without state approval and operating without official registration.
Amnesty International has urged the authorities to drop the charges.
“The authorities must stop using independent civil society organisations as scapegoats for all the ills of Egypt,” said Hadj Sahraoui, adding that “banning contacts with international ‘entities’ invokes Mubarak-era practices that the current president had pledged to break from”.
“We are urging the Egyptian authorities to ensure that any legislation to replace the NGO law is in line with international law, respects the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association, and is based on transparent consultations with human rights organisations and other NGOs,” Hadj Sahraoui said.