Freedom House expressed concern over the current draft of the non-governmental organisation law that the Shura Council has been discussing.
The independent watchdog said: “Efforts to pass a restrictive NGO law in the absence of a legislature raises serious concerns over the future of Egypt’s civil society.” It also called on the presidency to not take any decision until an elected parliament is able to deliberate the law.
Freedom House also said on Thursday that “the consideration of this legislation has been rushed, in a process that included few civil society stakeholders”. The organisation points out that in its view the law in its current form “imposes harsh restrictions on the resignation and operations of foreign NGOs”.
The rights organisation highlights that NGOs would be “subject to the decisions of a governmental coordinating committee”. Freedom House is concerned by this as the committee would have the power to deny licenses to NGOs “and could prohibit activities on the basis that they “violate national sovereignty” and other vaguely-worded formulations”. It believes the law would grant the government powers to interfere in the operations of NGOs in Egypt.
Freedom House also expressed concern that the committee would have to approve foreign funding for Egyptian NGOs and the committee also has “the right to deny such funding without providing specific grounds for rejection”.
“Approval of this law by the presidency would stifle Egyptian civil society organisations, which are already operating in a repressive environment,” the organisation said, adding that it would restrict NGOs from contributing to Egypt’s transition to democracy.
Freedom House requested the Egyptian government not to make a decision on the law until the election of the House of Representatives “in order to allow a fully-elected body to carry out its important deliberative role in an open and transparent process of considering this legislation”.
In January, Freedom House announced that Egypt’s rating had moved from “not free” to “partly free” during 2012. This was down to an improvement in Egypt’s political rights score, however the civil liberties score had remained unchanged.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) had also called on the Shura Council to withdraw the current draft of the NGO law earlier in April. The EMHRN said one that is in “compliance with international human rights standards” should replace it.