The newest draft NGO law issued in late June by Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity would severely restrict civil society. The draft law introduces a number of constraints on the formation and operation of NGOs, in violation of Egypt’s constitution and international obligations.
Among its most concerning provisions, the draft law would:
- Make registration mandatory for all organizations, networks, and alliances. Those who engage in NGO activities without registering could be subject to imprisonment for no less than one year and a fine of no less than $14,000;
- Enact excessive hurdles for foreign NGOs, including the creation of a government “Coordinating Committee” with substantial discretion over their registration and operation;
- Enact barriers to the formation of national-level NGOs by requiring a minimum of ten members, at least 75% of whom are citizens;
- Limit the purposes of NGOs to “social welfare and development” only. Ostensibly, human rights, advocacy, and democracy organizations would not be allowed to function;
- Require prior government approval for the receipt of foreign funding and give the “Coordinating Committee” excessive discretion to reject requests;
- Allow arbitrary dissolution of NGOs by court order, with vague grounds for dissolution including receipt of funds from a foreign entity.
- Provide grounds for excessive government interference in the internal affairs of NGOs;
- Impose harsh criminal penalties, for violations, creating a chilling effect on individuals’ exercise of their right to freedom of association;
- Consider NGOs’ monies “public funds,” allowing them to be frozen if any citizen requests an investigation.
- Mandate that CSOs become members in government-organized NGO federations, violating the right to freedom of association by compelling individuals to join these groups.
With Parliamentary elections expected to take place later this year, it is possible that a new NGO law may not be considered until after a new Parliament is seated. Nonetheless, the current draft law is the latest in a long series of proposed restrictions on civil society and if enacted, it would have serious and detrimental consequences for civil society in Egypt.
ICNL has translated the draft law into English and is working closely with local partners to monitor procedural developments and to push for a more enabling law.