Legislation drafted by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs could tighten control over funding for non-governmental organizations and also give legal status to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamist group, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported Wednesday.
If passed by the next People’s Assembly and approved by the president, the bill would put extensive restrictions on foreign funding for NGOs, according to Al-Ahram. However, the state-run newspaper claimed the legislation would also remove all restrictions on the work of organizations, particularly with regards to political and human rights activities and opinion polls.
Despite that claim, the story goes on to say the bill would ban NGOs from supporting political parties or funding candidates.
It would reportedly waive local NGOs from obtaining licenses to operate, but would maintain the requirement for foreign groups.
The ministry’s draft bill would also strip administrative authorities of the right to dissolve NGOs, instead making it the responsibility of the judiciary. It requires government approval for foreign funding and subjects both local and foreign funding to the Central Auditing Organization’s oversight.
Under the proposed bill, anyone who assists or joins a foreign organization in carrying out civil activities or opinion polls for an unlicensed group faces a minimum of one year in prison and a fine of at least LE100,000.
Since the 1990s, civil society organizations have played an increasing role in pushing for political freedom and an end to human rights abuses. Non-governmental organizations heavily criticized the conduct of former President Hosni Mubarak’s administration, documenting police abuse and pressing for greater freedoms. In response, the regime tried to restrict the work of NGOs by denying them legal status.
In April 2011, draft legislation by the same ministry caused an uproar among human rights and democracy activists.
Navi Pillay, UN high commissioner for human rights, criticized the draft bill, saying that if implemented, it would be "a potentially serious blow to the human rights aspirations of fundamental freedoms for which so many Egyptians have struggled for so long and at such cost."
Currently, 43 foreign and Egyptian pro-democracy activists are on trial for receiving illegal foreign funding. The case casts a potential shadow on longer-term strategic relations between Egypt and the US.
Al-Ahram said that an understanding had been reached to legalize the status of all entities that are not covered by the existent law, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood.
A number of politicians and activists have called upon the Brotherhood to seek legal status.
Some argue that a decision issued by the government in 1954 dissolving the group is still valid, but members of the Islamist group claim that in 1992 an administrative court said that there wasn’t any executive document that shows that the group was disbanded.