On March 7, 2010, the Egyptian newspaper Al Dustour published what is reported to be the leaked text of a Draft Law to replace the existing Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 84 of 2002). While the Egyptian government has not confirmed or denied the Al Dustour report or otherwise made an official draft available for comment, the published draft is consistent with statements made by government officials over the past two years concerning the contents of proposed amendments.
The proposed Draft Law represents a significant degradation of the already restrictive legal and regulatory environment for associations and foundations (hereafter referred to as civil society organizations, or CSOs) in Egypt. Among other issues, the Draft Law:
- Limits association activities. CSOs will only be permitted to work on “social care, development, and community awareness-raising,” and will not be allowed to work in more than two of these three fields without permission from the government. Many common CSO activities, including the promotion and defense of human rights, do not fall clearly within these three categories.
- Requires all groups to register and prohibits “any private entity” from the “practice of any of the activities of associations and foundations without taking the form of associations or foundations pursuant to the provisions of the [Draft Law].” While the law does not define “the activities of associations and foundations,” this provision can be interpreted as barring the use of civic companies, the legal form of choice for most human rights and opposition groups.
- Requires CSOs to obtain permission from the Ministry of Social Solidarity prior to receiving foreign funds or affiliating or partnering with foreign organizations, and gives the Ministry apparently unlimited discretion to approve or deny such requests. Organizations which are dependent on foreign funds – especially human rights and opposition groups – may find themselves starved of funds and effectively unable to continue operations.
- Affords government officials wide latitude in determining which organizations may register, and establishes new obstacles to the registration of CSOs, making it more difficult to register organizations.
- Imposes severe criminal punishments for violations of the law, creating a strong disincentive to associational activity.
- Requires every CSO to join governorate-based “Regional Federation[s] of Associations and Foundations” and to provide a representative for the Federation’s General Assembly, mandating that the representatives associate with one another in violation of their rights to freedom of association.
- Prohibits foreign nationals from founding CSOs, and prohibits the registration of foreign CSOs absent an agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Update: 41 Egyptian CSOs Issue Press Release Condemning Draft Law (22 March 2010)
- “The undersigned non-governmental organizations wish to express their extreme dismay at recent news that the Ministry of Social Solidarity has completed a draft for a new NGO law. According to the latest leaked copy, the bill is more restrictive and draconian than repressive bill already in place. It is expected to pass into law with the approval of the government parliamentary majority in the coming month.”
Update: ICNL comments on draft law available; Round up of Egyptian and International media coverage (12 April 2010)
ICNL has completed an analysis of the draft law’s provisions in light of Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other related treaties. The analysis is available in English and Arabic upon request.
- April 12 – Dr. Mufid Shehab, Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, “will meet on Thursday with representatives of civil society organizations and the National Council for Human Rights to discuss their proposals” for implementation of Egypt’s UN Universal Periodic Review recommendations.
- April 8 – The National Center for Human Rights “rejects proposed NGO law currently before the Council of Ministers”
- April 7 – Dr. Mohammad Kamal, a leading member of the ruling National Democratic Party’s Policy Committee, announces that “the National [Democratic] Party will not make any changes to the Law on Associations during the current parliamentary session”
- March 28 – Issandr El Amrani publishes analysis of draft CSO law in Foreign Policy: “The bill… could decimate independent NGOs and marshall registered ones under the same restrictive state-controlled bureaucracy that political parties and trade unions have suffered. It could also provide a weapon against popular movements such as the National Association for Change headed by former IAEA chief Muhammad ElBaradei, who in recent months has become an unlikely challenger to the 29-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Activists fear that it will be passed by the pliant parliament in time to restrict civil society monitoring of this year’s parliamentary election and next year’s presidential election, and more generally, dampen political life ahead of a likely presidential succession.”