The Egyptian House of Parliament on July 14 approved an all-new law for non-governmental organizations (NGO), replacing the controversial law of 2017.
The approved draft is alleged to eradicate multiple debatable articles from the 2017 law, while including nine new articles. The 2017 law had received intense criticism, claiming that it stifled social work in Egypt.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on November 2018 responded to critics of the 2017 law, tasking the government to reconsider it and formulate an official committee to discuss it, calling for a more balanced law regulating NGO work in Egypt.
“I agree, and I believe in the work done by civil society organizations,” Sisi said.
This new law affirms that all NGOs operating in Egypt should work in light of the Egyptian constitution. Several MPs and human rights activists have hailed the new law as a massive improvement from before, when NGOs suffered great restrictions.
However, some critics remain unsatisfied.
They regard this latest law as just a reproduction of the previous one, with human rights activist Sherif Azer expressing concerns over several points in the new law during an interview with Egypt Independent.
“The new law may be slightly better than that was released in 2017, as it includes some good articles such as the elimination of freedom violating punishments as well as the one percent that used to be taken from any foreigner funds,” Azer told Egypt Independent.
“However, these good looking articles are still obstacles that are thrown amidst the path of NGOs in Egypt, as the law intentionally makes specific articles seem superficially helpful even though they’re actually challenging,” he explained.
Azer added that although the new law excluded the jail penalty it still allows imposing rather intense financial punishments that could reach LE1 million. Furthermore, Azer said that the newly confirmed law may seem to allow establishment of new NGOs easily right after the notification process, however it added a strict rule that requires the full confirmation from the administrative authority without any forms of objection.
“Unfortunately the new law may seem to be a renovation for the 2017 law but in fact it is still a hurdle that tightens the work of the NGOs in Egypt,” Azer said.
The political activist also reportedly said that the government allowed the issuing of the new law as result of excessive international pressure. However, the President of the Egyptian Parliament Ali Abdel Aal stated in a parliamentarian session that they refused to accept legislation coming from foreign pressure, according to al-Ahram.
On the other hand, the President of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) Hafez Abu Seada said that the new law has met almost all desires from human rights activists.
“I see that the new approved law has fulfilled around 75 or 80 percent of the demands,” Abu Seada told Egypt Independent.
Abu Seada regarded the law as a breakthrough step that would facilitate the work of NGOs in Egypt, enabling them practice their activities with more freedom that the past years.
He applauded a particular addition which allows foreigners to officially work in NGOs.
Saeda highlighted some prominent articles that he claimed signified a real change in the NGO law, including illegalization of dissolving any NGO unless there is a judiciary rule.
Referring to another article, Saeda mentioned that NGOs now will be able to receive funds from inside Egypt after notifying the administrative authority while abroad within 60 days after the notification.
“When receiving the fund from an external entity in your bank account, you notify the administrative authority and within 60 days, you either get and acceptance upon using the fund or rejection so you give it back to that entity,” he explained.
He added that most importantly, if NGOs got no response, this is regarded as an approval for receiving the fund, pointing out that this was one of the NGOs main wishes.
He highlighted that one of the new law’s milestones is that it replaced punishments in te 2017 law that imposed jail times with fines starting from 50,000 LE up to LE1 million, according to the Egyptian parliament’s final modification.
“I agree with with those frustrated over the large fines but I believe that this is still better compared to jail penalty infringing on the freedom of NGO workers” he said.
Regarding the requirements for legalizing any NGO’s presence, Saeda explained that the administrative authority should approve the organization’s documents, noting that it has the right to ban its formation depending on the nature of the organization’s activities.
In that case, the administration passes this opposition to the judicial authority to dissolve it.
The EOHR’s president sees that the period of 60 days for notifying the competent authority is fair, commenting that “In the previous NGO laws, you could have been waiting for over a whole year to get informed whether your organization will be licensed or dissolved.”