The state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) called Tuesday for postponing the issuance of a draft legislation regulating the activities of civil society organisations within Egypt.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity presented the draft legislation to Egyptian groups on 26 June. It has garnered criticism since then for restricting the activities of the already struggling civil society organisations in Egypt.
The NCHR met with representatives from a group of civil society organisations on Tuesday to discuss the controversial draft. Organisations presented the council with a research paper detailing their criticism to the draft law.
Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, deputy chairman of the NCHR, said the council initially seconded the organisations’ criticism of the draft, adding that it is yet to present an official stance toward it. Shokr, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the draft law would enforce security and administrative control over civil society organisations.
The law necessitates the formation of a coordinating committee. The committee, which would include representatives from the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Justice, International Cooperation and Social Solidarity and Intelligence Service, would control NGO activities through controlling their sources of funding. It would also have the jurisdiction to issue permits to international organisations to allow them to operate in Egypt.
The draft gives the government veto power over all activities of civil society organisations. Under the new legislation, the government has the power to dissolve organisations without a court order. It can also refuse to licence new organisations under the pretext that their activities could “threaten national unity”.
“This law is a huge setback for civil society activities,” Shokr said, stressing that such a law should only be issued by an elected parliament. He added that the hefty punishments set for violating the law would have “dangerous repercussions” on civil society activity in Egypt.
The NCHR agreed with the meeting organisations to prepare a workshop where they can put forward their criticism of the draft law. The workshop would also include representatives from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, as well as experts.
Mohamed Zare’, director of the Arab Penal Reform Organisation and one of the attendants of Tuesday’s meeting, said civil society organisations have worked on another draft of the law. This was done in coordination with the Ministry of Social Solidarity during the administration of former Social Solidarity Minister Ahmed El-Borai. He added that the said draft was subjected to societal dialogue and that most parties had reached consensus over it.
“It was nevertheless disregarded and replaced by this draft,” Zare’ said.
Zare’ doubted that serious societal dialogue would be held over the current draft legislation before its issuance.
International watchdog Human Rights Watch condemned the draft law on Monday and called for it to be discarded. The watchdog warned that it will “throttle” Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and “rob them of their independence”.
Twenty-nine NGOs rejected the draft in a joint statement last week, describing it as a “blatant violation of the constitution and Egypt’s international obligations”.