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NGO law criticised
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 23 - 11 - 2016

MPs had no sooner approved a new NGO law than it came under attack from local and international rights organisations.
Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs the 89-article law, passed on 15 November, will now be referred to the State Council for legal and constitutional review.
He argued the new NGO law, drafted by parliament's Social Solidarity Committee, seeks to boost the role of NGOs in development work while safeguarding national security.
“NGOs can be a blessing or a curse,” said Abdel-Aal. “They are a blessing when they confine their work to raising the awareness of citizens, spreading a culture of democracy and contributing to development in society. But they are a curse when they spread chaos, disrupt national security and propagate foreign agendas.”
London-based Amnesty International issued a statement on 19 November saying “the new law would restrict NGOs from operating without governmental consent and will carry high fines and heavy jail sentences for those who don't comply.”
“It is the worst NGO law or draft that Amnesty International has seen since 2011… it's definitely worse than the current repressive NGO law that was issued in the Mubarak era.”
Ayman Okail, head of the Maaet Peace, Development and Human Rights Organisation, told reporters the new law imposes tough restrictions on NGOs in Egypt. “One of the most controversial articles in the draft law stipulates that NGOs aiming to operate in Egypt must secure prior approval from a regulatory body — the National NGO Apparatus, a stipulation that is not only highly restrictive but constitutional.”
“We understand that this stipulation reflects fears among government officials and MPs, especially after it was revealed that several NGOs had received millions of dollars of funding from abroad in recent years to carry out political activities. But the fact remains that this draft law aims to strip NGOs of any independence and impose government control over all NGO activities.”
Okail remains hopeful the State Council will dilute the new law's most restrictive articles on constitutional grounds.
Hafez Abu Seada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) and a member of the National Council for Human Rights, believes the law contradicts Article 75 of the constitution which states NGOs must be allowed to exercise their activities without administrative interference.
The new law, says Abu Seada, obliges NGOs to obtain permits for all field work and surveys, bars any NGO from undertaking work the authorities might deem political, and imposes one- to five-year jail terms and hefty fines on those who fail to meet its provisions.
Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, chairman of the Social Solidarity Committee which drafted the law, told reporters on 21 November that “Amnesty International's statement on Egypt's NGO law reflects a radical liberal point of view”.
“Amnesty International and Western human rights organisations want to impose a radical liberal agenda that will lead to chaos and disrupt national security.”
Al-Qasabi insists the new law does not impinge on the freedom of NGOs to conduct their activities, arguing “all it does is to prevent suspicious funding from abroad of political activity conducted under the pretense of promoting democracy.”
He claims “some of the foreign funding granted to NGOs in recent years was spent on terrorist acts and disrupting the country's national security.”
“NGOs should not be a vehicle for political activity. Those who want to engage in politics can do so by joining licensed political parties.”
According to Al-Qasabi, the draft law has been approved by the National Union of NGOs. “The head of the union, which includes 48,000 NGOs, agrees that the law is a step towards reforming NGO activity and energising the role they play in social development,” he said.
Whatever amendments are suggested, Al-Qasabi says MPs are determined that the law remains based on the concept that NGOs avoid political activities and that any foreign funding that might jeopardise national security be strictly controlled and supervised.
“Those who criticise the law are the ones who want to receive foreign funding without any checks,” he said. “NGOs cannot be turned into profit-making business as some want, and they cannot be used to impose anarchist agendas.”
Mohamed Abu Hamed, deputy chairman of the Social Solidarity Committee, complained to reporters on Saturday that “Amnesty International's statement is politicised”.
“Western radical liberal organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch will do their best to tarnish the new law because these organisations seek only to spread chaos and disrupt the national security of other countries,” said Abu Hamed. “If you do not toe their line they brand you a dictator.”
Abu Hamed argued “the draft NGO law is compatible with the constitution and Article 75 which stipulates that NGO activities should not threaten national security.”
“The draft law also guarantees that NGOs can only be dissolved by a final judicial order.”
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati said this week that the government will submit its own amendments to the parliament drafted NGO law.

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