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Check on foreign money
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 15 - 11 - 2016

Egypt's parliament on Monday took government civil society organisations by surprise when it began discussing a new NGO law. The 89-Article Law, drafted by head of parliament's Social Solidarity Committee Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi and 203 MPs, triggered a quick backlash from Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali who asked parliament to wait “because the government also has its own draft law on NGOs”.
In response, Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said parliament had the full right to propose and pass laws which reflect its vision. “The constitution (Article 101) grants parliament complete legislative rights,” said Abdel-Aal, adding that “parliament will also take its time in debating the articles of the new law to guarantee that they are in line with the constitution and international conventions in a way that does not allow NGOs to operate at the expense of national security”.
Joining forces, Al-Qasabi said that MPs had decided not to wait until a cabinet-drafted law on NGOs is submitted to parliament. “We decided to take the initiative in drafting a law on NGOs and opening a debate on it,” said Al-Qasabi, adding that the draft law includes two new chapters on foreign NGOs.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati said the government-drafted NGOs law was approved by the cabinet at the end of October and referred to parliament on 2 November. “There is no delay because we sent the government's draft two weeks ago and we ask that this draft be discussed in parliament,” said Al-Agati.
On Tuesday, the parliament has agreed on the draft law and referred it to the State Council to review it after the MPs finished debating most of the articles of the draft law. It has provisionally approved it on Monday.
Abdel-Aal began the debate by insisting that parliament “will not accept any kind of pressure from inside or outside the country. Egypt's parliament was democratically elected and it stands firm against any pressure. We want a new NGO law that will serve the interests of Egypt rather than the interests of foreign agendas.”
According to Abdel-Aal, “NGOs can be a blessing or a curse. They can be a blessing if their business is confined to raising the awareness of citizens, spreading the culture of democracy and contributing to development in society,” Abdel-Aal said. “But they can be a curse if they move to spread chaos under political slogans, disrupt national security and serve personal interests.”
Abdel-Aal said foreign funding of NGOs should be tightly controlled. “When money comes to NGOs, they automatically become public money that should be put under tight supervision.” He added that “some saboteurs profited from foreign funding of NGOs in the past and this should be corrected by supervising their money”.
Abdel-Aal argued that the parliament-drafted NGO law also observes the constitution which grants citizens the right to set up NGOs under certain conditions that aim to safeguard the national security of the country against any threats.
Abdel-Aal said that Israel, which he said the West likes to describe as the oasis of democracy in the Middle East, issued a new NGO law that has imposed tough restrictions on foreign funding. “The speaker of this country's parliament has said that he will not allow any source of foreign funding that might harm his country's national security,” Abdel-Aal added.
Al-Qasabi said NGOs and civil society organisations sent parliament a letter denying that NGOs are used as a cover for obtaining corrupt money that can be used as a weapon against ordinary Egyptian citizens and disrupt the country's national security. “We do not accept the suggestion that corrupt people with foreign agendas and with personal interests speak on our behalf,” Al-Qasabi cited the letter from NGOs as saying.
MPs also opened fire on foreign funding of NGOs. Mustafa Bakri, an independent MP and high-profile journalist, charged that “NGOs in Egypt received as much as $1.2 billion in foreign funding to spread chaos in Egypt in 2011”. Al-Qasabi added that some NGOs in Egypt received foreign money “to spend on terrorist acts in Sinai”.
Mohamed Al-Seweidi, MP businessman and head of the General Federation of Egyptian Industries, said “all countries impose tight control on foreign funding of NGOs because this funding could be used for carrying out terrorist acts or smuggling goods into the country”.
One of the most controversial articles in the draft law stipulates that foreign NGOs looking to operate in Egypt must get prior approval from a new regulatory body, the National NGO Apparatus (NNA). Articles 59 and 60 state that any NGO found guilty of receiving foreign funding without the NNA's prior approval will be dissolved. “NGOs should work for the public interest and their money should not be used in any political activities such as funding parliamentary candidates or political parties, inciting hatred and disseminating sectarian tension, disrupting national security, or forming secret armed militias,” Article 62 states.
Bahaeddin Abu Shoqa, chair of parliament's legislative and constitutional affairs committee and secretary-general of Al-Wafd Party, also told MPs that the current NGO law – passed 14 years ago – has no longer become viable. “The Al-Wafd Party was the first to alert the nation to the dangers of corrupt NGOs and that they could be a mixed blessing,” said Abu Shoqa, arguing that NOGs “could play a very positive role in boosting development and helping citizens during natural disasters such as floods. But they could be highly risky when they use foreign money to impose radical agendas on society and help subvert the country's national security.”
Al-Qasabi said unlike the 2002 law on NGOs, the current law was very clear in defining the role of NGOs in society. “It decides for the first time that a regulatory body – the National NGO Apparatus – be set up to supervise the activities of all NGOs, including foreign NGOs and to closely monitor their sources of funding,” Al-Qasabi said.
He also indicated the draft law was in keeping with the constitution, stating that NGOs can be set up upon notice, not to mention that it showed in detail all the steps NGOs should take to be officially recognised in Egypt.
Meanwhile, parliament's General Committee said on Sunday that it has reviewed a complaint filed against MP Anwar Al-Sadat, former head of parliament's Human Rights Committee, which accused him of leaking the government-drafted NGO law to a number of foreign embassies in Cairo. Sources say Minister of Social Solidarity Wali lodged the complaint in person against Al-Sadat with Parliament Speaker Abdel-Aal. Wali accused Al-Sadat of exploiting his position as chairman of parliament's Human Rights Committee in the first legislative season (January-September 2016) to leak the NGO draft law to a number of EU diplomats in Cairo.
In response, Al-Sadat told reporters Sunday that “it is so easy for foreign embassies in Cairo to gain access to the draft NGO law from different sources.
“I did not leak the draft copy of this law because it was never sent to parliament,” Al-Sadat told reporters.

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