As the 10 November deadline for the registration of all NGOs active in Egypt looms, many rights groups find themselves in legal limbo.
A bill was issued in July by the Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali to regulate NGOs and instructing them to register under the Law 84/2002. The deadline was extended in September by 45 days in response to demands from the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), meaning that groups must now register before 10 November.
The law will form a coordinating committee with the power to control the activity of NGOs through controlling their sources of funding, and to issue permits to international organisations allowing them to operate in Egypt.
Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) said: “We sent a notification outlining our status to the ministry more than 10 days ago and requesting a registration number, but the ministry never responded to it.”
He also added that the statements made by the ministry are only for media exposure, and that the network will carry on with its work on supporting political and human rights in Egypt.
Amendments to the penal code were approved by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on 21 September and published in the country’s official Gazette. The law now states that whoever receives foreign or local funding, monetary or logistically, in ways that aims to harm the country’s interests, security, or dependence, is to receive life imprisonment and a heavy fine.
The amendments also stipulate that if the offender is a governmental employee, they shall receive a death sentence.
Since the 25 January Revolution, three drafts were prepared in an attempt to modify NGOs Law 84/2002, with the new law pending approval by the next parliament.
In recent discussions, 288 NGO across Egypt participated in workshops with the ministry to discuss the best form for the bill before being passed in the upcoming parliament, the social solidarity ministry stated.
The ministry statement added after 30 June 2013, 296 NGOs received 668 grants from 266 donors for approximately EGP 710m. The ministry has expedited the grant approval period and cut it down to weeks.
The drafted bill provoked negative responses form a wide array of NGOS, who issued a joint statement in July calling for a new bill that supports the civil society work in Egypt rather than curbing its activities.
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.”
In 2011, an Egyptian court ordered the closure of five international NGOS in the country and sentenced their workers to jail. Twenty-seven defendants were tried in absentia, receiving five-year jail sentence, eleven received one-year suspended sentences, and five received two-year sentences, all suspected in illegal foreign funding.
The defendants sent a joint letter to US President Barack Obama on Friday, condemning the verdict and showing concern over the issue describing it a “crackdown” on civil society work in Egypt.