By Aya Nader and Menna Zaki
Twenty-nine NGOs have rejected a new bill that allows government interference in their affairs and poses “unconstitutional” restrictions.
The NGOs signed and issued a statement on Wednesday, listing the reasons for refusing the bill put forth by the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Among the NGOs that signed the statement are the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), Al-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.In a meeting on 26 June, the ministry met to discuss the adoption of the new law, having chosen to model it on a similar previous law, Law 32/1964.
“The bill is a [blatant] violation of the constitution and Egypt’s international commitments,” said the statement.
In their statement, the NGOs said they reject the law because it “allows the administrative authority to severely interfere with the NGOs’ affairs, objecting and cancelling their decisions, and ignoring their independence”. The law also expands potential grounds for the legal dissolution of NGOs, such as failure to achieve their goals, they added.
According to the statement, the law will form a coordinating committee which is afforded the power to control the activity of NGOs through controlling their sources of funding, and to issue permits to international organisations to allow them to operate in Egypt.
NGOs are against the establishment of this committee, saying it puts human rights associations under “the mercy of security forces”. The issuance of this law will allow the security forces to intervene and will make the NGOs tasks harder, the press release added.
The statement asserted that the draft law circumvents Article 75 of the constitution, which guarantees the rights of the citizens to form associations and acquire legal legitimacy upon informing the Ministry of Social Solidarity. With the establishment of the new law, this would only be permissible 60 days after notifying the ministry.
The law also prohibits organisations to have political purposes that may “threatens the national unity or public order or morality”, if the organisation has any political activity, it should identify the purpose of this activity.
It also bans NGOs from working with syndicates, which the statement said hinders their work in defending the labour rights.
The draft law prohibits NGOs from conducting any field research or setting any opinion polls without the permission of the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).
It also bans NGOs from freely choosing the legal framework appropriate for the nature of their activities.
“This will restrict the operations of NGOs in Egypt and suppress freedom of speech,” said Ahmed Abdel-Naby, lawyer at AFTE.
In opposition to the recommendations of human rights organisations that foreign funding should be monitored under the law, the new law states that a coordinating committee must rule on any funding and is not obligated to stating the legal basis of declining.
The bill also requires any NGO seeking cooperation or membership in an organisation or foreign body to notify the Ministry of Social Solidarity with a 60 day access period for permission. The punishment for violating this article is a one year imprisonment and/or a fine of not less than EGP 100,000.
“This bill does not need amendments. It needs re-drafting according to a new philosophy based on liberating civil society to play its role,” said the statement. It added that the president should not pass the “unconstitutional law”.
“The bill is a repressive project that aims to silence the voice of civil society organisations and human rights organisations. It is not different from the Protest Law passed by the interim president [Adly Mansour] in November 2013.”
Abdel-Naby said NGOs have addressed an array of issues in Egypt, from sexual harassment to torture in prisons, and believes this shows the government aims to silence its opposition.
“We don’t think that Egyptians will accept this [law, however],” he said. “It’s against what the revolution called for.”