The United Group law firm held a seminar about the foreign funding for NGOs in the draft NGO Law, currently being discussed, on Wednesday.
Seminar moderator and Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights Chairman Hafez Abu Seada said that the draft NGOs law will be submitted to the Cabinet in three weeks, giving the Cabinet the chance to review and ratify it.
Abu Seada is a part of the Civil Work Committee formed by Minister of Social Solidarity Ahmed Boraie. The committee, which consists of 18 human rights activists, is responsible for writing the new NGO Law.
The seminar discussed Article 19 of the proposed law, which is concerned with the foreign funding of Egyptian NGOs.
Abu Seada compared two points of view regarding the monitoring of foreign funding to NGOs: “There is a point of view that supports setting restrictions on receiving funds, while the other point of view supports the idea of monitoring the usage of the funds; our proposed law supports the second point of view.”
United Group’s Project Manager Ehab Sallam said that international treaties, such as the United Nations’ Declaration for Human Rights Defenders and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, protect NGOs and civil groups in general. These treaties were signed by Egypt “so they automatically become a part of the Egyptian legislation”.
“These treaties give governments the right to take procedures to monitor foreign funding for NGOs; however, these procedures taken by the governments should not deny the NGOs their right to receive funds,” Sallam stated.
The seminar included testimonies from several civil work activists. The testimonies focused on the negative aspects of the bureaucratic techniques used by the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Saied Abdel Hafez from the Human Rights Dialogue Forum said that the ministry’s employees still use Article 32 of the NGO Law issued in 1964, instead of the current Article 84, issued in 2002. He also condemned the long duration that the ministry takes to approve foreign funding requests. “A request may stay unanswered for three years,” he said.
Atef Samir, from the Human Rights Association to Help Prisoners, said that the 2002 law 84 does not require NGOs to deal with security authorities, “however, this is not the case” Samir said.
Samir said that all requests presented to the Ministry of Social Solidarity for ratification must pass through security authorities. “I was once told my request to receive funds was rejected by the Intelligence Agency,” he added.
However, most of the conferees praised the currently-discussed law. The United Group referred to the [draft NGO] Law as “not perfect, but acceptable and realistic” in the Seminar’s booklet.
Foreign funding for NGOs remains a topic of controversy after the prosecution and army forces raided a group of foreign and local NGOs in December 2011, confiscating equipment and documents and closing down some of the offices under allegations they received illegal foreign funding.
43 employees from five NGOs were referred to court, including Egyptians, Arabs, Americans and Germans.
The defendants are facing accusations of working for unregistered organisations (without legal permission), and thus illegally receiving foreign funds.
On 1 March 2012, a group of foreign defendants left the country. This was viewed as a result of SCAF caving under US pressure.