Egypt

Last updated: 30 October 2019

Update

On October 28, President al-Sisi extended Egypt’s state of emergency for another three months. The state of emergency—which has been in force across the country and continually extended or renewed since 2017—expands the powers of the president and other state authorities to impose curfews and censor media outlets. It also enables authorities to refer individuals to state security courts for violations of laws related to protest and assembly, blocking traffic, intimidation, terrorism, and other crimes stipulated in the Penal Code.

The state of emergency extension comes in the context of a renewed, sweeping crackdown on dissent in Egypt. In the weeks after September 20, when sporadic anti-government protests broke out in several Egyptian cities, security forces have arrested an estimated 4,000 people—including peaceful protesters, political leaders, rights activists, journalists, and lawyers. Another 80 or so political opposition leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders people were rounded up in July over terrorism charges.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi also ratified a new restrictive law governing civil society organizations (CSOs), Law 149 of 2019 Regulating the Exercise of Civil Work. The new law was published in the August 19, 2019, edition of the Official Gazette; it replaces Egypt’s prior, draconian CSO law, Law 70 of 2017 on Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Area of Civil Work, which was widely criticized by both domestic and international entities as unduly restrictive. Nonetheless, Law 149 does not represent a significant change from Law 70. It preserves Law 70’s overall regulatory approach, characterized by excessive government control of civil society, including by imposing significant legal and administrative hurdles to organizations’ formation, activities, and access to domestic and foreign resources. Please see the Legal Analysis sections below for more details.

Introduction

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 post-2011 crackdown 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.

Throughout the post-revolutionary period, various government ministries and parliamentary committees also proposed a series of draft laws to replace Law 84 of 2002. With few exceptions, the proposed replacements would have imposed new restrictive measures. The most draconian of the drafts laws emerged in the fall of 2016; it was approved by Parliament in a rushed session and ratified by President el-Sisi in 2017 as Law 70 on Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work (English) (Arabic). Domestic and international CSOs, governments, and UN entities roundly condemned the restrictive new law, 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 FormsAssociations and civil foundations
Registration BodyMinistry of Social Solidarity
Approximate NumberApproximately 52,000 associations, according to the Ministry of Social Solidarity in 2018. The vast majority of these, however, are believed to be inactive or to exist only on paper.
Barriers to EntryLaw 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
Associations are limited to activities in the fields of development and social welfare. Numerous activities are prohibited, including any activity that “violates the public order, public morals, national unity or national security.” The law also gives authority to government officials to inspect an association’s premises at any time and otherwise interfere in the association’s internal affairs of the association, including the ability to review and reject decisions made by the association’s board. Sanctions for legal violations include steep fines for individuals and dissolution of an association.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy
Law 149 prohibits engagement in “any political” or “partisan” activity that is regulated by other laws; similar provisions have been used to limit organizations’ advocacy activity. Associations may not conduct opinion polls. “Field research” is prohibited unless it has been approved beforehand.  Criminal defamation laws have been used to silence critics of the government. Restrictive laws on the press and media, as well as a cybercrimes law, constrains expression offline and online.
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.
Barriers to Resources
The Ministry must issue a special letter to a bank affiliated with the Central Bank of Egypt before an association may open a bank account. Associations must notify the Ministry before they receive foreign funds or funds from Egyptian individuals abroad, and wait sixty days without the Ministry’s objection, during which they may not use the funds. Notification to the Ministry is also required when an association receives or collects donations from domestic sources. A license is required to carry out fundraising.
Barriers to Assembly
Protest organizers must notify the government three days in advance of a public assembly of ten or more people. Excessive force is often used against protesters, and thousands of protest participants have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned.
Population99.4 million (July 2018 est.)
CapitalCairo
Type of GovernmentRepublic
Life Expectancy at BirthMale: 71.8 years
Female: 74.7 years (2018 est.)
Literacy RateMale: 86.5%
Female: 75% (2017 est.)
Religious GroupsMuslim (mostly Sunni) 90%, Coptic 9%, other Christian 1%
Ethnic GroupsEgyptian 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 BodyRankRanking Scale
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index115 (2018)1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index33 (2018)100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index13 (2018)100 – 0
Transparency International105 (2018)1 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the WorldStatus: Not Free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 6 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index36 (2018)177 – 1

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International AgreementsRatification*Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)Yes1982
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)No
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)Yes1982
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)Yes1957
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)Yes1967
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)Yes1981
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against WomenNo
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)Yes1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)Yes1993
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)Yes2008
Key Regional AgreementsRatification*Year
Arab Charter on Human RightsYes2004 (signed but not ratified)
African Charter on Human and Peoples’ RightsYes1984
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the ChildNo
Treaty Establishing the African Economic CommunityNo
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in AfricaNo
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ RightsNo

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

Egypt’s Constitution was adopted by popular referendum in January 2014. 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]
  • Implementing Regulation for Law 84 of 2002 (Ministry of Social Affairs Decree 178 of 2002) (still in force pending issuance of the regulations to implement Law 149 of 2019)
  • 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

Pending Legislative Initiatives

Law 149 of 2019 Regulating the Exercise of Civil Work, which was ratified and published on August 19, requires that implementing regulations be issued within six months of the law’s promulgation. Until that time, the operative regulations from Law 84 of 2002 will continue to apply. The implementing regulations will determine numerous details not addressed by the law, including: the documents required for notification by Egyptian organizations and licensing of foreign organizations; the conditions and process required for CSOs to obtain permission to affiliate with a foreign entity or employ foreign individuals; and the conditions and process involved for CSOs to notify the government of receipt of domestic or foreign funding.

Organizational Forms

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 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” by a resolution from the Prime Minister. (Article 55) An association may request this status, however the procedure for doing so and relevant criteria are to be determined by executive regulations.

According to Article 56 of Law 149, a resolution from the Prime Minister 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 “data and documents,” to be determined by the executive regulations for Law 149, as well as 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) Law 149 provides that the Minister of Foreign Affairs may cancel the operating license of a foreign organization 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.

Foreign Funding

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, and the Ministry then has 60 days to object to the funds. Associations may not use the funds during the 60-day probationary period. Notably, Law 149 provides that the absence of a Ministry objection during the 60-day period may be considered approval. (Article 27) However, Law 149 does not provide any grounds on which the Ministry may object, nor does it clarify the effects of an objection; these elements are left to be determined by the law’s executive regulations, and may impose significant practical constraints on associations’ access to crucial funds.

Failure to secure approval 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)) This was the case under Law 84/2002, as well. For example, in April 2009, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) received a dissolution decree, alleging that the EOHR received foreign funding without authorization. The dissolution order reportedly came soon after EOHR published its 2008 Annual Report, which contained criticism of the Egyptian Government.

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 “facilitates” its receipt. The vague language and broad terms of Article 78 have led to self-censorship among human rights organizations and activists, who fear the provisions may be used to prosecute them for activity that is critical of the government.

Domestic Funding

Law 149 imposes limitations on associations’ access to domestic funding as well. The law provides that associations must notify the Ministry upon receipt of any cash or in-kind donations from local entities in Egypt or foreign organizations licensed to operate in Egypt. (Article 24) The deadline, process, and conditions for the notification are all left to be determined by the law’s executive regulations (Article 24), which may impose additional constraints on receipt and use of such funds. Law 149 also restricts associations’ ability to carry out domestic fundraising: Any fundraising activity may be undertaken only after associations obtain a license from the Ministry. (Article 25-26) The conditions for the fundraising activity and process for its licensing are to be determined by the law’s executive regulations. If an association violates the permission and licensing requirements, the Ministry may suspend the association’s activities for up to one year or request a court to order its dissolution or dismissal of its directors. (Article 29)

Barriers to Assembly

It is estimated that more than 3,000 individuals were killed in the context of demonstrations in the months during and after the 2011 Revolution – the majority in instances of excessive use of force by authorities. Thousands more have been detained and charged with violating provisions of the law governing protests, even in the absence of any individual evidence against them; others are not charged at all, but spend extensive time in periodically-renewed pretrial detention.

In November 2013, interim President Adly Mansour approved a controversial new law to regulate public assembly in Egypt, including marches, demonstrations, and public meetings of ten people or more. As originally issued, the law required assembly organizers to notify the Interior Ministry at least three days before assembling, and allows the Ministry to ban protests or impose other harsh penalties, including imprisonment, for a range of vaguely defined acts such as “violating the public order,” “impeding the interests of citizens,” or “obstructing traffic.” Under amendments to the law approved in March 2017, the Interior Ministry no longer has blanket authority to ban protests; that power was transferred to the judiciary. Accordingly, if a court refuses an organizer’s notification of intent to protest, the organizer may appeal. (The amendments modify Article 10 of the law in accordance with the December 2016 ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court.)

The law also fails to place adequate restrictions on the use of force to break up assemblies. Since the law was issued, police have forcibly dispersed numerous peaceful protests; it is estimated that many hundreds of individuals have been arrested and imprisoned under the new law. These include prominent activists such as Alaa Abd El-Fattah, a leader of the “No to Military Trials” campaign, who was arrested for organizing an unauthorized protest and sentenced in 2015 to five years in prison. Egypt’s Illegal Assembly Law of 1914 also remains in effect, and, together with various provisions of the Penal Code, is often used to bring additional charges against individuals detained in the context of protests.

UN Universal Periodic Review ReportsUniversal Periodic Review 2019: Egypt
Reports of UN Special RapporteursEgypt
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country NotesNot available
U.S. State Department2017 Human Rights Report: Egypt
Fragile States Index Reports2018 Foreign Policy Fragile States Index
IMF Country ReportsArab Republic of Egypt: Selected Issues: 2007
Arab Republic of Egypt: Selected Issues: 2005
International Commission of JuristsICJ Submission to the Universal Periodic Review of Egypt August 2009
Egypt – ACIJLP Organizes the First Activities of its Campaign “Empowering Women to Hold Judiciary Positions in Egypt”: 2006
NGO Regulation Network ReportsEgypt – Fast Facts
CIVICUS Civil Society Index ReportsCivil Society Index – Country Report for Egypt
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online LibraryEgypt

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Egypt’s Harsh Crackdown Quashes Protest Movement (October 2019)
group of teenagers arrested on their way to buy new school clothes. An illiterate shoeshiner picked up from the street. Eight people stopped while they were eating from a street food cart. These are among the latest political prisoners to overcrowd Egypt’s jails, arrested as President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi moved to quash the anti-government protests that first erupted across Egypt two weeks ago. The harsh crackdown — one of the largest waves of arrests in Egypt in decades — has ended the short-lived protest movement and put Mr. el-Sisi back in control, at least for now.

Rights Groups Call for Immediate Release of Protesters(September 2019)
The brutal crackdown by Egyptian state security, which in the last few days was marked by the arrests of nearly 2000 people – including peaceful demonstrators, political leaders, rights activists, journalists, and lawyers – constitutes a flagrant violation of the right to free expression and peaceful protest, and a weapon of intimidation against political and human rights advocacy and any attendant media and legal support.

New NGO Law Renews Draconian Restrictions (July 2019)
Egypt’s parliament approved a new law governing nongovernment organizations on July 14, 2019 that would maintain many of the existing restrictions on their work, Human Rights Watch said today. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi should not approve the law and instead should return it to parliament for amendments.

Arrests Target Political Figures Involved in New Coalition to Run in 2020 Parliamentary Elections (June 2019)
Several political figures involved in discussions to form a new political alliance meant to stand in 2020 parliamentary elections were arrested beginning at dawn on Tuesday. Those detained face accusations of leading a plot “to bring down the state” ahead of the June 30 anniversary. This plot — identified by the ministry as “The Plan for Hope” — was backed by 19 companies and economic entities secretly managed by Muslim Brotherhood leaders from abroad, according to the Interior Ministry.

Constitutional Amendments Entrench Repression (April 2019)
The Egyptian government should withdraw proposed constitutional amendments that will consolidate authoritarian rule, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said today. The amendments will undermine the Egyptian judiciary’s dwindling independence and expand the military’s power to intervene in political life. A public referendum on the amendments takes place amid ongoing mass arrests and a relentless crackdown on fundamental freedoms, including currently targeting those calling for boycotting or rejecting the amendments.

Egypt Tightens Restrictions on Media, Social Networks (March 2019)
Egypt’s top media regulator on Tuesday put into effect tighter restrictions that allow the state to block websites and even social media accounts with over 5,000 followers if they are deemed a threat to national security. The move is the latest step by the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to suppress dissent.

Court acquits 43 defendants of all charges in NGO foreign funding case (December 2018)
A Cairo court acquitted 43 defendants tried as part of the NGO foreign funding case, overturning a June 2013 sentence convicting them of operating unlicensed NGOs and receiving foreign funding with the intention of harming national security.

Egypt MPs welcome President Sisi’s call to amend controversial NGO law (November 2018)
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi took all by surprise when he announced that he supports amending a controversial NGO law passed in 2016. On the second day of the World Youth Forum held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh between November 3-6, participant Yostina Tharwat appealed to El-Sisi to invoke his constitutional powers to request a revision of the NGO law passed by parliament at the end of 2016, which she said has caused a lot of controversy. El-Sisi’s surprising answer was “I agree that some fears had led some articles of this law to be issued in a flawed way… I suggest that a committee be formed to hold hearing sessions on the NGO law and that state authorities move to submit an amended version to parliament.”

Egypt Passes Law to Regulate Media as President Sisi Consolidates Power (July 2018)
Egypt’s parliament passed a law giving the government sweeping powers to regulate traditional and social media, a move critics say will boost the Sisi regime’s ability to crack down on free speech and dissent. The measure allows authorities to penalize traditional media like television and newspapers for spreading what the government terms fake news. It also treats social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers as media outlets, opening Twitter and Facebook users to prosecution on vague charges including defaming religion and inciting hatred.

Egyptian Parliament Approves Cybercrime Law (June 2018)
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) and Access Now condemn the Egyptian Parliament’s approval of the Law on Combating Cybercrimes (“Cybercrime Law”), which provides new authority for online surveillance, blocking of websites, and monitoring of internet users and the use of communications services in Egypt.

Egypt’s parliament moves forward on anti-cybercrime law (April 2018)
The parliamentary communications committee has approved a draft law to combat cybercrime amid criticism that this draft law, if approved, would further stifle freedom of expression.

Sentences annulled for 16 defendants in 2011 NGO foreign funding case, retrial ordered before criminal court (April 2018)
Egypt’s Court of Cassation ordered the annulment of previous prison sentences handed to 16 defendants, Egyptians and foreigners, working for foreign NGOs in Egypt prior to 2013, and ordered a retrial before a criminal court. The ruling relates back to the 2013 sentencing of 43 civil society workers in a 2011 case against foreign and Egyptian NGO workers. Twenty-three of the defendants were sentenced to between two and five years in prison, and 11 others were given suspended sentences of one year for operating unlicensed non-governmental organizations and receiving foreign funding with the intention of harming national security.

Censorship tightens in Egypt as el-Sisi prepares for re-election bid (March 2018)
Ahead of elections later this month, in which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is seeking a second term, the authoritarian leader’s government has further clamped down on press freedom, issuing warnings to the media and arresting crit