EGYPT: Elimination of civil society signed into law by President Sisi

31/05/2017
Press release

Geneva-Paris, May 31, 2017 - Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi officially ratified the repressive NGO law that Egyptian Parliament approved in November 2016. The law handcuffs NGOs with regulations and strangles their funding mechanisms, essentially eliminating civil society in Egypt, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an OMCT-FIDH partnership) said today. Introduced under the guise of national security, the implementation of this new legislation attempts to eradicate the human rights movement as a whole.

On May 30, 2017, Egypt’s draconian NGO law was published in the Official Gazette after ratification by President Sisi over six months after it was approved by Parliament, despite global criticism and condemnation. NGOs will now have one year to register with the, yet to be formed, National Authority for the Regulation of Non-Governmental Foreign Organizations. No representatives from civil society will serve on the organization, instead it will be composed of representatives from the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the General Intelligence Directorate, the Administrative Control Authority, the International Cooperation Ministry, and the Money Laundering Unit.

Under the law, NGOs will be only allowed to engage in activities that conform to national development plans while non-compliance will be met with jail terms of up to five years. Human rights work is banned under this law; similarly NGOs may not conduct work that harms “national security”, “law and order”, “public morals”, or “public health”, terms that are subject to the discretionary interpretation of government agencies. Increasing global concern is the new prohibition banning NGOs from calling for supporting or financing terrorist organizations or violence. This signals future intentions to associate NGOs with terror organizations, therefore stigmatizing their efforts and providing the government lenity to impose harsher restrictions and punishments under Egypt’s counterterrorism legal framework.

“The implementation of this law eliminates civil society in Egypt. Egyptian authorities have insinuated these restrictions under the veil of security; a veil which has become a shroud over Egyptian civil society. The eradication of NGOs leaves hundreds of thousands of Egyptians without support and services. Egypt’s censored and restrictive approach to ‘safety’ will leave thousands in danger”, declared Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

Additions to the November 2016 law attack NGO funding mechanisms, leaving them without adequate means to continue their work. NGOs must receive advanced approval for all funding they acquire and report all funding to the government. Further, any funding totaling over 10’000 EGP (approx. 510 EUR) must be received via wire transfer from a bank subject to Egypt’s Central Bank auditing or through a paper check (Article 23).

This new version of the law now into force further attacks the partnering capabilities of NGOs. No Government entities may enter into agreements with foreign NGOs for civil society work without approval from a council comprised of security agencies (Article 59). Further, the Government may now cancel the licenses of foreign NGOs, “for reasons pertaining to threats to the national security or public safety or undermining public order or according to the principle of Reciprocity” (Article 68).

“Attacking the autonomy, funding and partnerships of Egyptian NGOs is a systematic approach to eliminate and isolate them from their global partners. This creates a dangerous vacuum in light of the economic crisis, food and medical shortages plaguing Egypt. Not only does this law jeopardize the fundamental human rights of all citizens but also the stability of the entire country”, concluded Dimitris Christopoulos, President of FIDH.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:
• FIDH: Samuel Hanryon: +33 6 72 28 42 94 / + 33 143552518
• OMCT: Chiara Cosentino: +41 228094937

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