Egypt to amend 33 articles of those restricting NGOs’ work

Daily News Egypt
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Egypt is expected to come up with a new version to the existing non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs) Law, after a year of the government’s silence towards rejections and civil society’s demands.

The controversial law was drafted by the Head of the parliament’s Social Solidarity Committee, Abdel Hady Al-Kasby, and was ratified by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in May 2017, to replace Law 84 of 2002, six months after its approval in parliament.

The law, consisting of 89 articles, was approved, while another draft was sent from the cabinet to the parliament in September, but was not discussed.

The current law gives the government the power to decide on who can establish an NGO and its purpose, obliges groups to stick to the state’s development plans, therefore severely restricting the work they accomplish in the areas which the government does not consider a priority. The law also bans domestic and foreign groups from engaging in political activities, or anything that the government considers a harm to national security, public order, or public morals.

Civil society organisations have long been calling on the government to announce the new law, in order to limit the restrictions to which they are subjected to by government forces, and after a long time of illegally operating. Following court sessions, several activists were accused of illicitly receiving foreign funds, thereby freezing their assets.

Even though the law has been ratified a year ago, the cabinet did not issue a bylaw till our present day. Recently, the president responded to calls to amend the controversial law, and ordered the formation of a committee.

Youstina Tharwat, one of the youths attending the second World Youth Forum, addressed the president by saying, “Civil society organisations’ Law needs your attention and constitutional powers”. The president agreed  with Tharwat, saying that during the time of the law’s issuance, there were some fears which resulted in the presence of some flaws.

Al-Sisi said that there are over 50,000 NGOs and civil society organisations operating in Egypt. He added that NGOs are organisations which the state needs, in order to be able to reach out to, and support all those who are really in need.

On 17 November, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly ordered the formation of a committee in order to oversee the amendment of the NGOs Law. The committee will be headed by Egypt’s Minister of Solidarity, Ghada Wally, who is expected to come up with a comprehensive vision to amend the existing law, and prepare a report with the suggested amendments within a month. The amendments will then be introduced for an open social dialogue, so as to ensure that the new law is satisfactory to everyone.

Previously, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said that MPs were keen on ensuring the law’s transparency, allowing NGOs to be formed by notification, and auditing NGO activities’ should follow international monitoring standards.

What are the main amendments?

Member of The National Council for Human Rights, Hafez Abu Saeeda, stated that the committee will consider a draft law that was submitted by the Supreme Committee of Civil Work, under the decision of former Minister of Social Solidarity, Ahmed El-Borai in 2013.

Abu Saeeda continued in a press statement, “NGOs increase volunteer work, and civil work helps the development of all sectors. We have to adhere to the implementation of the provisions of article 75 of the constitution, to be entirely reflected into the law.”

Abu Saeeda stated that the council issued 20 comments over the NGOs Law, and sent them to the newly-formed committee, explaining that these comments included the abolition of some articles, specifically articles 70 – 77, concerning the work of national authorities regulating NGO activities.

He also added that the comments included a suggestion to remove articles imposing prison sentences as a result of administrative offences, and reduce the fines currently levied, ranging from EGP 500 to EGP 20,000.

The amendments will focus on the articles related to the process of NGOs’ registrations, financial registration and fees, the period granted for approving the establishment of NGOs, NGOs’ necessary licenses, and amending articles that included interference in NGOs’ affairs.

Thirty-three articles will be amended to conform to article 75 of the constitution, which states that “All citizens shall have the right to form non-governmental associations and foundations on a democratic basis, which shall acquire legal personality upon notification. Such associations and foundations shall have the right to practice their activities freely, and administrative agencies may not interfere in their affairs or dissolve them, or dissolve their boards of directors, or boards of trustees, save by a court.”

Meanwhile, the Deputy of the Social Solidarity Committee, Mohamed Abu Hamed, said that the committee considered NGOs’ members’ comments, and only a few of them were rejected for not being suitable with the country’s conditions. Abu Hamed added that among the articles which caused the most controversy over the law was requiring NGOs’ founders to provide a 1% tax on the funds they obtain, a condition that was rejected by many parties.

Regarding the delay of the bylaw issuance, he stated that this came as a result of some state institutions’ vision, asserting that the law should include more facilitation for the organisations by easing the restrictions.

Around 47,000 local associations, and 100 foreign employees in Egypt are required to work under the new law, which is dedicated to regulating the work of civil society organisations. In August 2017, the US decided to reduce $290m of military aid allocated to Egypt, justifying its decision was due to Egypt’s low human rights record, highlighting flaws of the NGOs’ Law. Later in last July, the aid was reinstituted.

Current disputed articles:

Article 8: Related to the establishment of NGOs, and stipulates that an official document on the NGO’s work be submitted, specifying its location. A fee of EGP 10,000 should be paid to launch the NGO, and be presented along with its founders’ criminal records and financial disclosures. Executive regulations may require that more documents are to be submitted.

Article 9:  States that NGOs will only be established after its founder has received approval, and it should not be approved in the event of submitting any inaccurate papers or failing to submit any of the required documents.

Article 19: If any NGO wants to be partners with another organisation, whether local or international, in any civil work that aligns with its purpose, it should first receive a licence from the authorities permitting such work. The Administrative Authority will be responsible for settling the conditions for both NGOs to cooperate.

Article 21: Stipulates that any NGO can relocate its headquarters and open a new office in any governorate, but only following ministerial approval. The NGO must submit documentation which discloses the new headquarters, including any new activities that will be carried out by the NGO in this space.

Article 24: NGOs should notify the administration of any financial grant, and if no response is received within 60 days, that means that the grant has been rejected. On the other hand, the government’s law says that the NGO should seek approval from the coordination committee.

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