On May 8, 2020, Amendments to the Emergency Law No. 162/1958 expanded the powers of the president and military prosecution during a declared state of emergency. Under the amended Emergency Law, powers available to the president now include the power to: ban private and public gatherings in addition to protests; shut down schools and universities; suspend operations in the private and public sector; and subject anyone returning from outside the country to quarantine. The amendments also allowed the president to give military prosecutors preliminary investigation authority over any crimes. On April 3, 2020, the Supreme Council for Media Regulation also blocked or limited access to dozens of news websites and social media accounts for allegedly spreading false information about the coronavirus.
In total, between the February outbreak of the virus in Egypt and early July 2020, Egypt has arrested at least ten doctors and six journalists, and health workers have been instructed by authorities not to discuss the health crisis with the press. For additional details, see ICNL’s COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker entry for Egypt.
In March, the Ministry of Social Solidarity released new implementing regulations for Egypt’s law governing civil society organizations, Law 149 of 2019 Regulating the Exercise of Civil Work. The new implementing regulations provide additional details about processes, requirements, and conditions referenced in Law 149 on topics ranging from organizations’ registration to their activities and access to funding. Civil society organizations have one year from the issuance of the regulations to adjust their legal status and internal governing documents to comply with Law 149.
After mass protests across Egypt led to President Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power in 2011, the country underwent several years of tumult, with numerous annulled elections, changes in governing authority, and uncertainty in the legal framework. Under the auspices of an interim government installed by the military in the summer of 2013, a new Egyptian constitution was finalized and approved by referendum in January 2014. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was elected president in May 2014, and a new parliament was elected in December 2015.
From 2002 until 2017, civil society in Egypt was governed by the provisions of the Law on Associations and Community Foundations (Law 84 of 2002) (English) (Arabic) and the Implementing Regulation for Law 84 of 2002 (Ministry of Social Affairs [Now Ministry of Social Solidarity] Decree 178 of 2002) (English) (Arabic). Despite the highly restrictive nature of these laws, the civil society sector expanded during this time and was relatively large and vibrant when the 2011 Revolution began. In effect, the CSO legal framework in Egypt prior to the Revolution did not serve to ban civil society outright but rather gave enormous discretionary powers to the Ministry of Social Solidarity and other government agencies. In practice, this authority was brought to bear against certain organizations and individuals that crossed the government’s ‘red lines’ in pushing for social reform and political liberalization.
In the years following the revolution, however, the government engaged in a more overt and sweeping crackdown on civil society. A criminal case launched in 2011, focused on Egypt-based international organizations alleged to have received foreign funding without government permission, was reopened and expanded in 2016 to focus on Egyptian organizations. From 2016 through 2019, a number of Egypt’s most prominent civil society leaders have been banned from travel in connection with the case, and several had their personal and organizational assets frozen under court order. Others have been detained and interrogated.
The crackdown has included a range of new laws and regulations, as well, to constrain CSOs and individuals’ freedoms of association, assembly, and expression. Among the most severe: A new assembly law passed in 2013 effectively banned protests by requiring government authorization for groups of ten or more people to assemble (under 2017 amendments to the law, the judiciary—rather than the Interior Ministry—provides ultimate authorization or refusal). In 2014, the government amended the Penal Code to heighten severe penalties that may be applied to organizations that receive foreign funding with the intent to harm the “national interest,” “national sovereignty,” or “public peace.” Restrictive, overbroad counterterrorism legislation was adopted in 2015, with a sweeping definition of “terrorist entities” broad enough to encompass CSOs carrying out legitimate, peaceful advocacy activities. And in 2018, Egypt enacted a cybercrimes law that authorizes the state to block websites deemed to threaten to national security, effectively sanctioning the government’s ongoing practice of blocking websites—including those of CSOs and independent news platforms.
In 2017, the government approved a draconian new law to govern CSOs, replacing Law 84 of 2002. Domestic and international CSOs, governments, and UN entities roundly condemned the restrictive new law, Law 70 on Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work (English) (Arabic), which created egregious constraints on CSOs’ formation, funding, activities, contact with international entities, and internal governance, and imposed severe criminal penalties on CSOs for violations. Despite its ratification, however, the law was never fully enforced—the government never issued implementing regulations to guide its application—and in November of 2018, President el-Sisi publicly indicated that he supported amendment of the law.
Following those remarks, a government committee initially formed to develop amendments to Law 70, drafted what the government put forth as a “new” law. Provisions of the draft law were withheld from the public until it was submitted to Parliament on July 9. Parliament approved the law in a final vote on July 15, and President el-Sisi ratified the law, Law 149 Regulating the Exercise of Civil Work per the August 19 edition of Egypt’s Official Gazette.
While Law 149 omits the individual prison sentences provided for in Law 70, it retains the overwhelming majority of restrictions present in that law. It preserves an overall regulatory approach to civil society characterized by excessive government control, including by imposing significant legal and administrative hurdles to organizations’ formation, activities, and access to domestic and foreign resources. Nor does Law 149—as the government claims—align with international standards for the protection of freedom of association. Law 149 perpetuates serious obstacles to freedom of association and will likely hinder rather than enable the realization of a vibrant, independent, and sustainable civil society sector that can support the development and democratization of Egypt.
|Organizational Forms||Associations and civil foundations|
|Registration Body||Ministry of Social Solidarity|
|Approximate Number||Approximately 57,000 associations were registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity in late 2019. The vast majority of these, however, are believed to be inactive or to exist only on paper. Ministry data indicates that only around 2,500 registered associations are considered active.|
|Barriers to Entry||Law 149 requires that associations have ten founding members and a physical headquarters. Registration is mandatory for all entities that practice “civil work,” defined in the law as non-profit activities that aim to achieve societal development. Informal (unregistered) associations and foundations are prohibited. Registration is by “notification,” but the process requires submission of extensive documentation, and allows the Ministry broad discretion to reject the registration during a 60-day waiting period.|
|Barriers to Activities|
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy|
|Barriers to International Contact||Domestic associations must obtain prior permission from the Ministry before they “join, affiliate, participate, or cooperate, in any other form” with any foreign organization or entity. Associations must also obtain permission from the Ministry before they may employ foreign individuals, whether as workers or volunteers. Foreigners may not make up more than 25% of an association’s board or membership.|
|Barriers to Resources|
|Barriers to Assembly|
|Population||99.4 million (July 2018 est.)|
|Type of Government||Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 71.8 years|
Female: 74.7 years (2018 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 86.5%|
Female: 75% (2017 est.)
|Religious Groups||Muslim (mostly Sunni) 90%, Coptic 9%, other Christian 1%|
|Ethnic Groups||Egyptian 99.6%, other 0.4% (2006 census)|
|GDP Per Capita (PPP)||$12,700 (2017 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2016.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale|
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||115 (2018)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||33 (2018)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||13 (2018)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||106 (2019)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free|
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 14 (2020)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free|
1 – 40
1 – 60
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||35 (2020)||178 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1982|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||—|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1982|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||Yes||1957|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1967|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1981|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||Yes||1993|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
|Key Regional Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|Arab Charter on Human Rights||Yes||2004 (signed but not ratified)|
|African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights||Yes||1984|
|African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child||No||—|
|Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community||No||—|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa||No||—|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights||No||—|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
Egypt’s Constitution was adopted by popular referendum in January 2014, and most recently amended in 2019. The constitution contains numerous rights protections that are relevant to civil society, although most of these have yet to see significant enforcement in practice. Relevant Constitutional provisions include:
Article 65 Freedom of thought:
Freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed.
All individuals have the right to express their opinion through speech, writing, imagery, or any other means of expression and publication.
Article 70 Freedom of the press:
Freedom of press and printing, along with paper, visual, audio and digital distribution is guaranteed. Egyptians — whether natural or legal persons, public or private — have the right to own and issue newspapers and establish visual, audio and digital media outlets.
Newspapers may be issued once notification is given as regulated by law. The law shall regulate ownership and establishment procedures for visual and radio broadcast stations in addition to online newspapers.
Article 71 Freedom of publication:
It is prohibited to censor, confiscate, suspend or shut down Egyptian newspapers and media outlets in any way. Exception may be made for limited censorship in time of war or general mobilization.
No custodial sanction shall be imposed for crimes committed by way of publication or the public nature thereof. Punishments for crimes connected with incitement to violence or discrimination amongst citizens, or impugning the honor of individuals are specified by law.
Article 73 Freedom of assembly:
Citizens have the right to organize public meetings, marches, demonstrations and all forms of peaceful protest, while not carrying weapons of any type, upon providing notification as regulated by law.
The right to peaceful, private meetings is guaranteed, without the need for prior notification. Security forces may not attend, monitor or eavesdrop on such gatherings.
Article 74 Freedom to form political parties:
Citizens have the right to form political parties by notification as regulated by the law. No political activity may be exercised or political parties formed on the basis of religion, or discrimination based on sex, origin, sect or geographic location, nor may any activity be practiced that is hostile to democracy, secretive, or which possesses a military or quasi-military nature.
Parties may only dissolved by a judicial ruling.
Article 75 Right to establish associations:
Citizens have the right to form non-governmental organizations and institutions on a democratic basis, which shall acquire legal personality upon notification.
They shall be allowed to engage in activities freely. Administrative agencies shall not interfere in the affairs of such organizations, dissolve them, their board of directors, or their board of trustees except by a judicial ruling.
The establishment or continuation of non-governmental organizations and institutions whose structure and activities are operated and conducted in secret, or which possess a military or quasi-military character are forbidden, as regulated by law.
Article 76 Right to form syndicates:
The establishment of federations and syndicates on a democratic basis is a right guaranteed by law. Such federations and syndicates will possess legal personality, be able to practice their activities freely, contribute to improving the skills of its members, defend their rights and protect their interests.
The state guarantees the independence of all federations and syndicates. The boards of directors thereof may only dissolved by a judicial ruling.
Syndicates may not be established within governmental bodies.
Article 77 Trade unions:
The law shall regulate the establishment and administration of professional syndicates on a democratic basis, guarantee their independence, and specify their resources and the way members are recorded and held accountable for their behavior while performing their professional activities, according to ethical codes of moral and professional conduct.
No profession may establish more than one syndicate. Receivership may not be imposed nor may administrative bodies intervene in the affairs of such syndicates, and their boards of directors may only be dissolved by a judicial ruling. All legislation pertaining to a given profession shall be submitted to the relevant syndicate for consultation.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
- Constitution of Arab Republic of Egypt of 2014
- Civil Code (Law 131 of 1948 as amended)
- Law on Regulating the Exercise of Civil Work (Law 149 of 2019) [English] [عربي]
- Law on the Right to Public Meetings, Processions and Peaceful Demonstrations (Law 107 of 2013)
- Assembly Law of 1914 (Law 107 above did not replace this law, which is still on the books and may be used to impose additional penal sanctions)
- Law Regulating the Press, Media, and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (Law No. 180 of 2018)
- Commercial Register Law (Law 34 of 1976 as amended by Law 98 of 1996)
- Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes Law, 2018
- Resolution of the Prime Minister Concerning Executive Regulations for Law No. 149 of 2019 on Regulating the Exercise of Civil Work
Pending Legislative Initiatives
Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at email@example.com .
Law 149 of 2019 provides for the establishment of civil associations and foundations. Not-for-profit companies can be established according to provisions in the Egyptian Civil Code and Corporate Code, however if these entities practice “civil work” as defined by Law 149, or “any of the activities of associations,” they must comply with Law 149.
According to Law 149, an association is an “organized group aimed at contributing to the development of individuals and the society; realizing the society’s demands; maximizing its capacity for participation in the public sphere and sustainable development; and not aiming at a profit.” It must be “established in accordance with the provisions of [Law 149] and shall be composed of no less than ten natural or legal persons, or both.” (Article 1(2)) Civil work is defined in the law as any not-for-profit activity that aims to achieve social development. (Article 1(1)) In addition to requiring at least ten founders to form an association, the law requires that all founders and board members must have the legal capacity to exercise their civil and political rights and must never have been convicted of a crime that “breaches honor or integrity” and that was punished with a prison sentence or other criminal penalty unless they have been rehabilitated, nor may their names have appeared on “terrorist lists.” (Article 4) Further, the number of founders or members of an association that are not Egyptian cannot be more than 25 percent. (Article 5)
According to Law 149, a foundation is established where a natural or legal person designates a fund of at least 20,000 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $1,200) for a not-for-profit, civil work purpose. (Article 1(4))
The remainder of this report will focus on associations, as the association has historically been by far the most common organizational form of CSO in Egypt.
Public Benefit Status
An association that pursues the public interest in its activities may be recognized as a “public benefit association” via a resolution from the Prime Minister or his or her delegate. (Article 55) An association may request this status from the Ministry of Social Solidarity and the Ministry will determine whether the association meets two criteria: if it aims to achieve a public benefit, and if its activities do not reveal any “financial, technical, or administrative violations.” (Executive Regulations, Article 99)
According to Article 56 of Law 149, the resolution from the Prime Minister or their delegate will also define the privileges that public benefit associations may enjoy, including the protection of such associations’ funds and possible government seizure of properties to assist the associations in fulfilling their public benefit purposes. Historically, many public benefit associations in Egypt have had close political links to the ruling party or President.
Barriers to Entry
Law 149 of 2019 includes of a number of legal and practical barriers to the establishment of associations. First, the law requires that all organizations doing “civil work” (defined above, see “Organizational Forms”) effectively register under Law 149 in order to operate. The law expressly prohibits any entity to carry out civil work without complying with Law 149. (Preamble Articles 3-4) Any individual who establishes or works with an unregistered or unauthorized organization is subject to up a fine of 100,000-1 million Egyptian Pounds (roughly $6,000-$60,000). (Article 94)
In order to register, the law provides that associations “merely” need to notify the Ministry of Social Solidarity of their establishment. Nonetheless, subsequent provisions ensure that the notification process is burdensome, time-consuming, and subject to expansive government discretion: The notification of establishment must be accompanied by an extensive amount of documentation and personal information about founders including their criminal records, for instance. Associations must also have evidence that they occupy a physical property and pay a fee of up to 5,000 Egyptian Pounds (roughly $300) as part of their notification. (Article 8)
When an association submits its notification, the Ministry of Social Solidarity (hereafter “Ministry”) must provide a receipt, acknowledging that the association has fulfilled the information and documentation requirements. (Article 9) For sixty days following receipt of an association’s notification, however, the Ministry has broad grounds to suspend the association’s legal establishment, including if any of the information it has provided is “incomplete or unauthentic,” or if its proposed purposes are criminalized in the Penal Code or “any other law.” (Article 9) In the case of a suspension, Law 149 provides that associations have sixty days to correct any violation or provide any missing information; they may also appeal the suspension decision before a court. (Article 9) Only after sixty days have elapsed without Ministry objection may associations consider themselves duly established.
Foreign and international NGOs have additional obstacles: In order to operate in Egypt, they must apply for and obtain an operating permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (Article 65) According to Law 149, the license will authorize the association’s activities “for a limited term” determined by the Minister of Foreign Affairs; there are no conditions or criteria to circumscribe this determination. The license request must be accompanied by extensive “data and documents” which include the organization’s funding sources and sources of funding for all activities to be carried out in Egypt, and criminal histories of the organization’s founders and managers. Foreign and international organizations seeking a license must also pay a fee of up to 50,000 Egyptian Pounds (approximately $3,000) which will increase by 20 percent every time the license is renewed, up to 200 thousand Egyptian Pounds (approximately $12,000). (Article 66, 67)
According to Law 149’s Executive Regulations, the operating license for foreign and international organizations will specify the activities—as well as the activities’ geographic scope, duration, and sources of funding—that the organizations are permitted to undertake in Egypt. (Executive Regulations, Article 116) Law 149 provides that the Minister of Foreign Affairs may cancel the operating license at any time for “reasons related to any threats to national security, public safety, or public order.” (Article 74) The Minister of Foreign Affairs may also cancel or suspend the organization’s activities if it violates Law 149 or the “rules for conducting licensed activities” (Article 74). The cancelation or suspension order must be “reasoned,” but it is not appealable.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Barriers to operational activity in Egypt take the form of explicit, legal limitations on permissible activities, governmental interference in internal affairs, vague grounds for dissolution, the imposition of harsh sanctions, and extra-legal harassment by security authorities.
First, Law 149 of 2019 expressly limits the activities that CSOs may engage in. Domestic associations and foreign NGOs are restricted to undertaking activities “in the fields of societal development” that consider “the development plans of the state and needs of the community.” (Article 14) On the other hand, Law 149 lists numerous activities that are prohibited: all associations are barred from carrying out “any political, partisan, or union activity” regulated by other laws, or anything that “violates the public order, public morals, national unity or national security.” (Article 15(b) and (d)) They are barred from conducting opinion polls or publishing the results and they cannot conduct field research unless it is approved beforehand by the Central Statistics Organization. (Article 15(j)) Associations are additionally barred from undertaking any activities that are “contradictory” to the purposes listed in their approved notification or license. (Article 15(a)) Violation of these prohibitions may be penalized by suspension of the association’s activities, dismissal of its directors, dissolution, and/or steep fines levied on any individuals personally involved in conducting the activities. (Articles 45, 47, 48, 94, 95)
Second, Law 149 also explicitly authorizes the government to interfere in the internal affairs of an association. Specifically:
- Law 149 provides that representatives of the Ministry (of Social Solidarity) may enter the premises of an association “to monitor its activities, review its records, and inspect the administrative, technical and financial aspects of its work.” (Article 30) The Ministry must notify the association about the inspection beforehand unless it has received an “official complaint,” in which case it is authorized to enter without prior notice. (Article 30) An association’s staff and directors are obligated to facilitate the Ministry’s inspection. (Article 30)
- Law 149 establishes a new unit within the Ministry, called the “Central Unit,” that is tasked with the “supervision and oversight” of Egyptian and foreign organizations. (Article 76) The staff of the Central Unit as well as any “subunits” identified by the Ministry of Justice are endowed with the authority of “judicial control officers,” or law enforcement, in carrying out their mandate. (Article 79)
- Law 149 requires that associations submit to the Ministry the minutes of all meetings of its directors and all decisions taken (Article 36), and authorizes the Ministry to contest any decision taken by an association. The Ministry may request the withdrawal of such a decision within 30 days if it is deemed to violate the law or the association’s bylaws. (Article 34)
- The Ministry may review any new board members that an association proposes and disqualify those it deems ineligible for candidacy. (Article 38) The disqualified member may appeal to a court, but he or she has only seven days to do so.
- The Ministry or any other individual may seek a court order to dismiss an association’s board of directors on broad grounds: These include the association’s receipt or sending of money from a foreign source without prior approval; entering into an agreement with a foreign organization without prior approval; committing crimes related to the misuse of public funds; or failing to enable an inspection of the association’s records and activities by Ministry representatives. (Article 47)
Third, Law 149 provides for numerous overbroad acts or omissions that may result in the Ministry suspending an association’s activities for up to one year or dissolving the association altogether. Acts for which the Ministry may suspend an association’s activities include: submitting inaccurate data in the association’s notification documents; relocating without notifying the Ministry within three months; carrying out activities not listed in the association’s notification or not otherwise specifically licensed; allocating money to activities for purposes other than those the association was established for; and carrying out activities prohibited by Law 149. Notably, Law 149 provides that the Ministry may issue a suspension order temporarily, but that it is only effective if supported by a court decision that the Ministry must request within seven days of issuing the order. (Article 45)
Law 149 also provides a number of broad grounds for associations to be dissolved by court order, including the receipt of foreign funding without prior permission or raising domestic funds without prior notification to the government. (Article 48(4)-(5)) The Ministry may also request a court-ordered dissolution if an association collaborates or affiliates with a foreign entity without prior government approval. (Article 48(6)), or if an association’s “real purposes” are “proven” to include the carrying out of activities prohibited by Law 149 (Article 48(2)). While an association’s court case is pending, the law prohibits it from fundraising or receiving any foreign donations. (Article 49) Finally, in any instance of an individual offense under the law (see below), the court may order an association’s closure, prohibit it from receiving donations, or suspend its activities. (Article 97)
Fourth, Law 149 and other provisions of Egyptian law make harsh individual sanctions – including steep fines – available for associations’ and their members’ violations of the law. Law 149 provides, for instance, that an individual who “conducts” any activity that “violates the public order, public morals, national unity or national security,” will be subject to a fine of between 100 thousand and one million Egyptian Pounds (approximately $6,000-$60,000). (Article 94(3)) The law imposes a fine in the same range on any member or director of an association who receives funds from outside of Egypt or sends of funds abroad without obtaining approval, or who otherwise violates the law’s provisions related to fundraising. (Article 94(1)) Law 149 imposes a lesser but still severe fine of between 50,000 and 500 thousand Egyptian Pounds (approximately $3,000-$30,000) on individuals for a number of other acts, including practicing “a political, partisan, or union activity that is regulated by other laws,” conducting opinion polls, entering into an agreement with a foreign entity without prior Ministry approval, or failing to facilitate the Ministry’s inspection of an association. (Article 95(3)-(4)) Finally, Law 149 provides that the individual in charge of an association’s management may be held jointly liable and punished with the same sanctions if he or she knew of the violations and failed to prevent them. (Article 96)
In addition to the above, Law 149 incorporates by reference—as Law 70 did—any harsher penalty in the Penal Code or “any other law.” (Article 93) Certain provisions of the Penal Code, in particular Articles 86bis and 98, also penalize particular activities relating to associations.
Finally, the security apparatus has historically interfered in association’s activities and operations, and incidents of harassment have increased significantly since the 2011 Revolution. For instance, in December 2011, authorities raided and shut down the offices of six international and Egyptian organizations, and commenced a two-year trial of NGO employees marked by procedural violations (reopened in 2016 as Case No. 173/2011). In December 2013, security authorities raided the offices of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, and detained and beat six employees. Egyptian officials raided and searched the Egyptian Commissions for Rights and Freedom’s (ECRF) offices in Cairo in October 2016; witnesses said the officials appeared to be part of Egypt’s police apparatus. Security authorities also shut down the El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture in February 2017, after repeated attempts to shutter the Center and freezing of its assets in 2016.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Egyptian law prohibits “any political, partisan, or union activity” by associations and other entities governed by Law 149. This prohibition is broader than that in the previous CSO law, Law 84 of 2002, which more narrowly prohibited associations from carrying out “any political activities the exercise of which is restricted to political parties according to the Parties Law.” The broader language of Law 149 gives officials greater leeway to decide what is considered “political” or “partisan” and thus prohibited under the law. Advocacy activities or those concerned with civil and political rights, for instance, could potentially be encompassed by the law and disallowed.
Egypt’s strict defamation and insult laws, often involving criminal penalties, have also been used to silence critics of Egypt’s Government. This was the case prior to the 2011 Revolution and has remained the case afterwards, as countless provisions criminalizing defamation of public authorities in particular remain part of the Penal Code. This had led to legal charges against journalists and others, such as satirist Bassem Youssef, whose television show was famous for mocking Egypt’s military and political leaders from 2011 to 2014. In addition to laws severely penalizing defamation and related offenses, Egyptian law includes other restrictions on speech, such as penalties for spreading false information or harming public morals. In November 2015, for instance, Hossam Bahgat, the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and an investigative journalist, was detained for three days on charges of “publishing false news aimed at harming national security,” after he published an article on the trial of 26 military officers accused of having plotted a coup.
Egypt has enacted new laws that constrain speech and expression online, as well. The cybercrimes law of 2018 enables the government to block any website “deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy;” anyone found guilty of operating or visiting these sites may be subject to imprisonment and fines. Amendments to Egypt’s press and publications law in 2018 prohibit “publishing or broadcasting false news and encouraging or inciting, violence, hatred, discrimination between citizens, calling for racism or intolerance;” the amendments also specify that any individual with a social media account or blog with over 5,000 followers will be treated as a media or press outlet, subject to the same broad prohibitions.
Barriers to International Contact
Law 149 requires that associations obtain advance approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity before they may “join, affiliate, participate, or cooperate, in any other form” with a foreign entity. (Article 19) In addition, Law 149 separately provides that an association may not enter into “agreements of any kind” with any foreign entity, whether inside or outside of Egypt, unless the Ministry has granted specific approval. (Article 15(k)) Law 149 prohibits associations from employing foreign individuals, whether “as experts, temporary or permanent workers, or volunteers,” unless they have obtained a license to do so from the Minister. (Article 72) Associations may only open branch offices outside Egypt with permission from the Ministry, as well. (Article 20)
Egyptian authorities have also issued travel bans to prevent numerous individuals—including association representatives and civil society activists—from traveling outside Egypt to participate in international conferences and meetings. Authorities have prevented representatives of international organizations from entering Egypt, as well. This was the case, for instance, with Egypt scholar Michele Dunne, who was turned away at Cairo Airport in December 2014 while trying to attend a foreign affairs conference.
Barriers to Resources
Law 149 requires that associations’ bank accounts be located in a bank under the supervision of the Central Bank of Egypt, and that they use only those accounts for all transactions related to the association’s activities. (Article 23) The accounts may only be opened once an association has successfully completed the notification process, at which point Law 149 provides that the Ministry “shall issue a letter” to a bank under the Central Bank of Egypt, directing it to open a bank account for the association. (Article 10) It is not clear if an association can open an account in the absence of this letter, or what actions it can take to obtain this letter if the Ministry fails to issue it. Associations must notify the Ministry of the number of their bank account. (Article 32)
Law 149 provides that associations may carry out other financial activities, out-side of bank transactions, only after notifying the Ministry and obtaining approval from the Financial Regulatory Authority. (Article 35)
Law 149 provides for the creation of a new Ministry database, which will include information on all associations’ sources of funding. (Article 8, 10) The Ministry may also request that the Attorney General order banks to disclose information about associations’ accounts. (Article 10)
Law 149 provides that associations’ resources are considered “public funds.” (Article 23), which has significant implications under Egyptian law. According to the Penal Code, any citizen may request an investigation of spending from “public funds,” and if someone requests an investigation of an association’s resources, the association’s access to those funds may be frozen. If a court ultimately finds that “public funds” have been misused, moreover, it may impose severe penalties under the Penal Code.
Law 149 perpetuates a system of state control over associations’ access to foreign funding, giving the government the authority and unbounded discretion to disallow most grants and donations from outside Egypt or from foreign entities inside Egypt. (Article 27) If an association receives such funds, it must notify the Ministry within 30 days. The required “notification” comprises extensive information about the donor, the funds, and the activities to be funded—including a detailed budget for each activity and a “feasibility study” of the activity. (Executive Regulations, Article 47) The Ministry has 60 days to object to the funds, during which time the association may not use the funds. Neither the law nor its Executive Regulations provide specific grounds on which the Ministry may object, giving the Ministry unbounded discretion to reject a funding request. Within 15 days of such an objection, the association must request have its bank return the funds, and must provide documentation to the Ministry proving that it did so. (Executive Regulations Article 49)
Notably, Law 149 provides that the absence of a Ministry objection during the 60-day period may be considered approval. (Article 27) However, the law and its Executive Regulations do not provide a way for associations to prove the absence of an objection.
Failure to comply with Law 149’s requirements around foreign funding can lead to individual penalties including a fine of between 100 thousand and one million Egyptian Pounds (approximately $6,000-$60,000) (Article 94(3)), and may also be grounds for the court-ordered dissolution of an association. (Articles 48(4))
Sending funds from an Egyptian CSO to a natural or legal person abroad also requires advance approval from the Ministry. (Article 27) The law makes an exception for scientific and technical books, magazines, publications, and brochures.
Egypt’s Penal Code creates additional restrictions on foreign funding. Following amendments in September 2014, Penal Code Article 78 provides for expanded penalties on anyone who accepts foreign funds in order to conduct activities deemed harmful to Egypt’s national interests and unity. Article 78 punishes with life in prison and a steep fine anyone who receives funding or other support from a foreign source, with the intent to “harm the national interest,” “compromise national unity,” or “breach security or public peace.” The provisions impose the same penalty of a life sentence on anyone who gives or offers such support, or “facilitate