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NGO law continues to provoke controversy
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 08 - 06 - 2017

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) says it is disappointed President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has ratified Law 70/2017 for Regulating the Work of Associations and Other Institutions Working in the Field of Civil Work without it being amended to comply with international conventions on human rights, writes Gamal Essam El-Din.
The law, first approved by parliament in November 2018, was ratified by the president on 24 May. The six-month delay fuelled speculation the 89-article law would be amended after the parliamentary approved draft was slammed by local and international human rights organisations.
Two weeks ago Osama Heikal, head of parliament' s Media Committee, told journalists that the new law was “still under discussion by parliament's Social Solidarity committee whose members are assessing whether some of its articles need to be redrafted”.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson issued a statement on 2 June expressing concern over moves to restrict civil society in Egypt. “Our vital fight against terrorism should not be confused with obstructing peaceful social participation. The best long-term defence against extremism is to protect people's rights to contribute freely and peacefully to a strong economy and open society,” said Johnson.
US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said the “draconian” law imposed “heavy restrictions… effectively banning the work of non-governmental organisations”. In a statement issued on 31 May they urged Al-Sisi to ensure the new law on NGOs met international standards, arguing that “Congress should strengthen democratic benchmarks and human rights conditions on US assistance for Egypt”.
Amnesty International called the law a “catastrophic blow” and a “death sentence” for human rights groups in Egypt.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alaa Abu Zeid denounced the international response to the new law. The new legislation, he said, “makes it much easier for individuals to set up NGOs in line with the Egyptian constitution and international standards”.
Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, head of parliament's Social Solidarity Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly he was disappointed “some foreign players have attempted to pressure parliament to change articles of the new NGO law.”
“We have resisted all such attempts, working day and night to issue a law that will bolster national security, close the door on suspicious funding and allow NGOs to work in Egypt in a serious and constructive way.”
Al-Qasabi said that unlike the 2002 law it replaces the new law clearly defines the role NGOs should play in society. “It also establishes, for the first time, a regulatory body — the National NGO Apparatus — to supervise the activities of all NGOs and monitor their sources of funding.”
Al-Qasabi dismissed charges the new law falls short of international standards and “it will make it much easier for individuals to set up NGOs.” He said criticism of the new legislation was provoked not by its failure to meet international norms but because “it tightens control of foreign funding of NGOs.”
In November Parliament Speaker Ali-Abdel-Aal told MPs that “funding allocated to NGOs automatically becomes public money and must be placed under tight supervision.”
“In the past saboteurs have profited from this funding and we are correcting this by placing the budgets of NGOs under much closer supervision.”
Al-Qasabi accused critics of the new law of failing to read its provisions carefully. “Some people seem to have taken all their information about the law from foreign media reports or else from NGOs that will be forced to comply with the legislation,” said Al-Qasabi.
Abu Zeid accused NGOs which in the past received large amounts of foreign funding of trying to discredit the law in foreign circles. “NGOs which obtained huge amounts of money without being closely monitored turned human rights into a profitable business. They have now launched a hostile campaign against the law because it will negatively affect their own interests.”
In a press conference on 1 June the EOHR said its concerns are now focused on the executive bylaws regulating the application of the new legislation which the government has said will be published within two months.
Al-Qasabi discounts any worries over the bylaws. “They will simply compel NGOs to respect the constitution, observe public morals and avoid any activity deemed a threat to national security,” he said.
Under the new NGO law civil society organisations have 12 months to comply with its provisions. Those unable to do so will be dissolved.
Article 70 of the law establishes a new body, the National Foreign NGOs Regulation Apparatus (NFNRA), to “oversee the activities of foreign NGOs in Egypt… and supervise all forms of foreign funding allocated to local NGOs and civil society organisations”.
In November two-thirds of Egypt's MPs approved the 89-article law compiled by the Social Solidarity Committee in preference to a government draft which did not include the NFNRA.

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