Egypt: Newly adopted NGO Bill to annihilate the human rights movement

Press release

Geneva-Paris, November 18, 2016 – The Egyptian Parliament has approved a new NGO bill which, should it come into force, will eradicate associations in the country, said the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders today. Even more restrictive than the one put forward in September, this new legislative initiative is the latest attempt to crack down on civic space in Egypt.

On November 15, 2016,the Egyptian Parliament concluded the revision of the 89 articles of the new NGO law, drafted by its Abdel Hadi el Qasabi, and adopted it. The new law, which will replace Law No. 84/2002 on Associations and Foundations, contains even more draconian provisions than the one proposed in September [1] by the Cabinet and will close the remaining space for conducting human rights work in Egypt. The law will now be referred to the State Council for legal review, and then it will be sent back to the Parliament.

The Observatory is particularly concerned about the attempt of the Egyptian Parliament to redefine authorised field of action for civil society organisations as being necessarily determined by the State’s agenda. In particular, Article 14 of the new law states that NGOs will be only allowed to engage in activities that conform to national development plans. Moreover, NGOs are not allowed to conduct work that may cause harm to “national security”, “law and order”, “public morals”, or “public health”, terms that are subject to the discretionary interpretation of government agencies. In addition, public surveys, research and reports will have to be reviewed by the Government and approved both before they are carried out and also after, prior to their publication.

“The provisions included in this newly adopted law leave no doubt about which role the Egyptian State wants civil society to play in this new Egypt: none. By redefining the limits of civil society, the Egyptian authorities are trying to create an illusion of national order and security, while continuing to judicially harass NGOs and human rights defenders” declared Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

The new legal framework sets the goal of NGO work as “to achieve their purposes in the fields of development and social welfare to achieve social development goals within the scope of the state plans and development needs and priorities.” Thus, human rights work will not be a permissible activity for NGOs. It will also require all NGOs to (re)-register under the new law, regardless of their prior status. At the same time, the administrative registration process is even more complex under this law, and practically bans foreign funding, since under Article 24 the Government must explicitly authorise all foreign funding applications. Any failure to comply will expose organisations to judicial dissolution (Article 43).

Moreover, foreign NGOs may only operate in Egypt with the authorisation of the National Foreign NGO Regulatory Agency, a body comprising representatives of different ministries including the Interior and Defence, as well as security and intelligence officials. Finally, Article 87 provides that any breach of the law shall be punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to one million Egyptian pounds (approx. 100,000 Euros).

“All this shows a clear intention by the authorities to isolate the Egyptian human rights movement from the rest of the world, by cutting access to vital foreign funding, prohibiting the conduct of activities by foreign NGOs in Egypt and multiplying restrictions against Egyptian human defenders. If this law is approved, it will have a devastating impact on Egypt’s vibrant civil society” added FIDH President, Dimitris Christopoulos.

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