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Further restrictions
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 11 - 2016

It took parliament just a couple of days to approve an 89-article legislation meant to define the operation of local and international NGOs working in Egypt. The law will replace current Law 84 of 2002 on civil society organisations.
The draft, submitted on 15 November by Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, head of parliament's Social Solidarity Committee, along with 203 other parliamentary members, was slammed by civil society organisations which argued the law would effectively end their presence in the country.
But drafters of the law insisted the urgency in which the law was passed was a must after accusing most NGOs of using foreign funds to harm national security and implement foreign agendas against Egypt.
In a statement issued on 15 November, six liberal and leftist parties and 22 rights groups announced their rejection of the law. According to the signatories, the law undermines civil society organisations and gives the government and security bodies the full authority to interfere in their internal affairs. They also expressed their resentment at the way parliament deals with NGOs, as if, they said, they were the enemy.
The statement said it viewed the current law as being more oppressive than that drafted by the government and published in several news outlets in September, amid much objection from NGOs.
The government draft law was submitted to parliament earlier this month but has not been scheduled for discussion. Government calls to parliament not to rush into approving Al-Qasabi's draft law until discussing the government's version went unheeded.
Having received preliminary approval by parliament, Al-Qasabi's law is on its way to the State Council to be reviewed before being endorsed.
“I am now reviewing the law submitted by 200 honourable MPs to parliament to kill NGOs," legal activist Negad Al-Borai wrote on his Twitter account. "I swear to God, the law is not only against the constitution but against reason as well."
Rights lawyer Mohamed Zarei described the law as "the worst" proposed throughout the last 20 years. “The law in its current form will end the presence of both rights NGOs and organisations working in the fields of development and social services,” Zarei said.
Rights activists say articles of the law would turn NGOs into entities affiliated to the government in a flagrant violation of the constitution and of all international conventions. Opponents refer to several articles of the law which, they said, shackle NGOs and impede them from practising any meaningful role in society.
Article 2 obliges all existing NGOs to adjust their legal status within six months following the issuance of the law. Failing to do so, the NGO will be subject to dissolution by a court ruling. The same article obliges an NGO to inform the ministry concerned with its activities, data, programmes, protocols and financing sources.
Article 13 prohibits NGOs from working in professional syndicates, trade unions and political parties and becoming involved in any activity that has a political nature or that would harm national security, public order or general principles.
Article 70 stipulates the foundation of a national body that will regulate the work of foreign NGOs operating in Egypt. The body will be assigned with issuing licenses, supervising their activities and monitoring means of cooperation between foreign and Egyptian NGOs. It will include representatives of three top security apparatuses and representatives of ministries of justice, international cooperation, social solidarity and foreign affairs in addition to representatives of the Central Bank of Egypt and the Administrative Control Authority.
Article 34 gives the concerned administrative body the right to object to decrees passed by an NGO and to intervene in the nomination of members of the board of directors.
Opening new headquarters and offices for any NGO should be subject to the approval of the minister concerned according to Article 21 of the law.
Article 42 bans any NGO from changing its headquarters without informing the concerned administrative body and concluding any cooperation agreement with any foreign organisation without getting permission of the national body. In these two cases, the courts would dismiss the board of directors and call upon the administrative body to appoint a temporary board. The same penalty will be applied to any NGO that receives foreign funding without getting the permission of the national body.
The concerned administrative body, according to Article 27, will have the right to enter the headquarters of any NGO to offer technical support, follow up its activities, inspect its documents and examine its administrative and financial affairs.
Article 87 sets a five-year jail term and a fine of up to LE1 million against an NGO that conducts field research or a public opinion survey without getting the necessary permission.
Appalled at its restrictive articles, legal activists view the law as the latest in a series of hostile measures taken against civil society organisations, specifically since 2011. Referring NGO activists to trial, freezing their bank assets, banning many of them from travel and approving such laws are all part of a plan targeting them, NGOs activists argued.
“Still, the government and parliament can never kill human rights activism even if they manage to kill organisations,” rights activist Gamal Eid wrote on Twitter.

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