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Egypt: Parliament Provisionally Approves Legislation Regulating NGOs

(Nov. 22, 2016) On November 14, 2016, the Egyptian People’s Assembly (the parliament) provisionally approved a draft law regulating the work of domestic and international non-governmental organizations operating in the country.  The draft law was proposed by the Social Solidarity Committee of the Assembly.  (Gamal Essam El-Din, Egypt Parliament Provisionally Approves a New NGO Law; Waits for Cabinet Draft, AL AHRAM (Nov. 14, 2016); Brittany Felder, Egypt Lawmakers Approve Law Restricting NGOs, PAPER CHASE (Nov. 16, 2016).)

Members of the Parliament endorsed the draft law. They argue that the law encourages NGOs operating in Egypt to raise the awareness of Egyptian citizens about social problems and to promote the constitutional principles of justice and equality.  The spokesperson for the People’s Assembly stressed that the draft law imposes sanctions on NGOs that spread chaos, disturb social order, and harm national security.  He also stated that the state of Israel, which is considered “an oasis of democracy” in the Middle East, has a similar law.  (Id.)

Features of the Draft Law

According to the head of the legislature’s Social Solidarity Committee, the draft law restricts NGOs from receiving foreign funding to work on domestic projects.  It also limits the work of international organizations.  It stipulates that foreign NGOs interested in operating in Egypt must obtain advance approval from a new government body, called the National NGO Apparatus, before beginning operations.  The law also requires NGOs not to use donated money to work on political activities, such as funding parliamentary candidates or political parties, or for inciting hatred, spreading sectarian tension, or damaging national security.  Finally, if an NGO violates these requirements, the law mandates its dissolution.  (Id.)

Reactions to the Draft Law

Human rights activists and members of civil society opposed the draft law.  They called it the “end of civil society” in Egypt and claim it denies the independence of civil society by placing NGOs under the direct supervision of the National NGO Apparatus.  (Hadeer El-Mahdawy, Newly Approved Parliament NGO Law Earns Rights Groups’ Criticism; MPs Defend Legislation, AL AHRAM (Nov. 16, 2016).)  They argue that the establishment of a national body to regulate the work of NGOs restricts them from operating freely within Egyptian society and achieving their objectives.  Further, activists criticized the draft law for punishing individuals working in NGOs with a period of imprisonment and a fine if they violate its provisions.  They also claim that the draft law will ban NGOs from publishing their research findings and note that the draft legislation uses broad terms such as “national security” and “public system” without providing any definitions for those terms.  (Id.)

The Minister of Social Solidarity filed a complaint before the General Committee of the People’s Assembly against Anwar El-Sadat, the former head of the Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, accusing him of leaking the provisions of the draft law to a number of foreign embassies.  According to news reports, the General Committee of the Parliament revealed that El Sadat would be referred to the ethics committee to be penalized if found guilty of this accusation.  (Gamal Essam El-Din, MP Sadat to Be Investigated for “Leaking Draft NGO Law to Foreign Embassies,” AL AHRAM (Nov. 13, 2016).)