In Egypt, civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are regulated by the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Law 84:2002) and the Executive Statute of the Law on Non-Governmental Societies and Organizations (Decree 178:2002). According to the International Center for Not-for -Profit Law (ICNL), despite being some of the most restrictive NGO laws in the world, they remain more discretionary than restrictive in practice1. The full weight of the law is generally only enforced against organizations advocating and implementing social and political reform.
Despite being instrumental in the Egyptian revolution, NGOs and CSOs in Egypt continue to face a hostile environment. In December 2011, seventeen local and international NGO offices were raided over allegations of illegal funding under Law 84:20022. Following the raids, 43 national and foreign NGO employees were arrested and charged with receiving illegal foreign funds3. Sixteen of the 17 foreign nationals charged left the country in March 2012, while one, Robert Becker, chose to stay and face trial. The trial remains ongoing, with a verdict expected in early June 2013. The sweeping raids and arrests were unprecedented, raising concern over the future of CSOs and NGOs in Egypt.
Draft NGO Legislation
Recent draft legislation on NGOs and CSOs is seen by many organizations as the latest threat to their work while government figures argue it is necessary for protecting Egypt’s sovereignty. Proposed oversight by government bodies, restrictions on sources of funding, and cumbersome registration processes have spurred debate between government officials and CSOs.
Following the revolution CSOs and other political bodies began proposing new NGO legislation to replace Law 84:2002. In March 2012, a draft NGO law, viewed by many as too restrictive, was submitted by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs to the People’s Assembly, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) held the majority4. The proposed legislation was rejected by the assembly and countered with a draft law from the FJP in April 2012. The FJP’s 2012 proposal was praised for its simplified processes and replacement of prison sentences with fines.
In February 2013, the FJP through the Ministry of State for Administrative Development submitted a new draft NGO law to the Shura Council, Egypt’s upper house of parliament. The Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs also introduced a new draft NGO law to the Shura Council in February 2013. According to Mohamed Zaree, of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), “both drafts impose the same restrictions on civil society.5” Zaree goes on to note that the proposals were so similar they even include identical typos.
The February legislative proposals by both the FJP and the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs require the establishment of a Coordinating Committee, comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, the General Intelligence Agency, and the Central Bank of Egypt, as well as a judge from the State Council6. Under both of the proposals the Coordinating Committee is responsible for approving foreign NGOs and authorizing what activities they are permitted to engage in7. Under the proposed legislation, foreign NGOs will only be allowed to engage in activities that address the “needs of Egyptian society.” The committee may deny foreign NGOs the right to work in Egypt, object to their activities, or the “direction of projects funding8.” The Coordinating Committee’s decisions can be challenged in court, but the NGO’s activities must be suspended pending a verdict.
Additionally, both of the February proposals classify foreign funding of Egyptian NGOs, as well as foreign NGO funds as “public funds”. Under Egyptian law, any citizen is allowed to request an investigation in the spending of “public funds” and assets may be frozen during an investigation9. Penalties for the misuse of “public funds” are much more severe than penalties for misuse of private funds.
Egyptian NGOs and CSOs are not permitted to associate with any foreign NGO without prior approval by the Coordinating Committee, under the FJP’s February draft law10. The Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs appears to already be attempting to enforce this. In February 2013, the ministry sent a letter to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), stating that no “local entity” is allowed to engage with “international entities” without permission from “security bodies.11” While the specifications in the letter were vague, “international entities” is believed to include international human rights organizations, as well as United Nations (UN) institutions.
Under the FJP’s February proposal, an Egyptian CSO or NGO wishing to establish itself must submit notification along with required documents to the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs12. After submission, the organization is legally established; however, the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs has 30 days to object to the organization’s establishment. Additionally, the Ministry is required to issue a certificate of registration, which confirms the legal status of the NGO or civil society organization. The draft law does not include a time frame for the issuance of the certificate, potentially allowing the ministry to indefinitely withhold the organizations activities. In order to operate, foreign NGOs would have to apply for a license from the Coordinating Committee13. The committee would have 30 days in the case of organizations established by an international and 60 days for the rest to either deny or approve the application. According to the ICNL, “the committee has broad discretion to deny a license”.
On March 24th, 2013 the Shura Council provisionally approved the FJP’s proposed NGO legislation14. Despite the provisional approval, the Council is still waiting for government-drafted legislation. The EOHR has since submitted recommendations on meeting international human rights standards, to Ahmed Fahmy, chairman of the Shura Council15. Following revisions to the draft in April, CIHRS sent feedback to the Shura Council and Presidency. The latest version of the legislation is believed to be from May 4; however, at the time of this writing organizations have not been able to access the document, so it remains unknown what changes have been made.
Proponents of the FJP’s draft NGO legislation view it as protecting Egypt from foreign influence. According to Omar el-Sharif, Deputy Justice Minister, “we want an NGO law free of the 2002 law’s serious defects in terms of tightening control on foreign funding of NGOs in Egypt.16” Nagi el-Shehabi, member of the Generation Party, explained his view of the law “as crucial to Egypt for eliminating the spies who have infiltrated the country under the cover of foreign NGOs.17”
According to the government’s foreign policy blog, “the Presidency believes that the new NGO bill will encourage civil work, facilitate its procedures and expand its sphere.18” Morsi’s administration views the law as “a balance between the freedom to practice civil work and establish civil entities on the one hand and the rules of transparency and society and national responsibility on the other.” The administration reported consulting with civil society groups, unions, centers, authorities, and embassies on the FJP’s draft law and taking their feedback into consideration19.
The proposed legislation has been met with fierce criticism locally and internationally. In February, twenty-two local organizations issued a condemnation of the legislative drafts, asserting that both the proposal by the FJP and the draft submitted by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, seek to nationalize civil society through the control of funding20. According to the statement, “either bill, if passed, will serve to insulate the old machine of repression and torture from criticism and oversight, facilitate the suppression of freedom of expression and the press, and eliminate the relative protection that rights groups currently provide to the victims of human rights abuses.21” Politicians have also expressed concerns over the proposed legislation. In May, the National Salvation Front (NSF) stated the “main goal [of the law] is to stop human rights organizations from pursuing officials for human rights abuses under President Morsi and his security apparatuses.22”
The draft law has also faced scathing criticism from international human rights activists and organizations. Human rights expert, Kenneth Roth stated that the establishment of a Coordinating Committee would enable the government to play favorites, approving funds for some organizations while denying funds to organizations that are critical of the government23. According to Roth, regardless of their funding sources, NGOs have the right to engage in activities, even dissent, as long as they do so in a peaceful manner. Roth goes on to question the government’s restrictions on foreign funds for NGOs considering the government itself “is desperately seeking foreign funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).24”
On May 8, 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned that the draft law, “if adopted, will impose a series of draconian restrictions on civil society organizations, especially those focused on human rights.25” Pillay cautioned, “it will mark a further blow to the hopes and aspirations that were raised during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.” Delegates from the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) echoed a similar warning, that “Egyptian civil society is now facing extermination ploys from the government.26” According to Freedom House, one of the international NGOs raided in December 2011, by prohibiting NGOs that receive funds from foreign governments, the proposed legislation would force the majority of international NGOs out of the country27.
With the proposed NGO legislation still undergoing revisions and debate in the Shura Council, the future of NGOs and CSOs in Egypt remains in question. As long as the government views civil society as a threat to national security, NGOs and CSOs will continue to face stringent regulations. The ramifications of passing the proposed legislation are difficult to determine. It is possible that the government will continue it’s discretionary implementation, with only human rights and political reform organizations facing the full weight of the law. The requirements on foreign NGOs, as well as complicated registration processes for new organizations may stunt the growth of civil society within the country.
By Maya Moseley
1. ICNL, NGO Law Monitor: Egypt. May 08, 2013.
2. Al Arabiya, US ‘Deeply Concerned’ About Egypt’s Decision to Prosecute NGOs. February 06, 2012.
3. Ahmed Enein, NGO Trial Verdict Set for 4 June. March 06, 2013.
4. Mohamed Zaree, FJP and Ministry of Social Affairs: An Identical Vision for Civil Society in Egypt. February 19, 2013.
5. Zaree, FJP and Ministry of Social Affairs: An Identical Vision for Civil Society in Egypt. February 19, 2013.
6. Egypt Independent, New Draft Law Would Limit the Scope of Work of NGOs. February 13, 2013.
7. Mohamed Zaree, FJP and Ministry of Social Affairs: an Identical Vision for Civil Society in Egypt. February 19, 2013.
8. ICNL, NGO Law Monitor: Egypt. May 08, 2013.
9. ICNL, NGO Law Monitor: Egypt. May 08, 2013.
10. ICNL, NGO Law Monitor: Egypt. May 08, 2013.
11. EOHR, Egypt Hits ‘New Low’ on NGO Restrictions. February 24, 2013.
12. ICNL, NGO Law Monitor: Egypt. May 08, 2013.
13. ICNL, NGO Law Monitor: Egypt. May 08, 2013.
14. Ahram, After Two-Week Hiatus, Shura Council to Tackle Raft of Thorny Legislation. May 14, 2013.
15. EOHR, EOHR Memorandum on NGOs” Law to Shura Council. March 31, 2013.
16. Ahram, Inside Egypt’s Shura Council, New NGO Law Brings Controversy. March 26, 2013.
17. Ahram, Inside Egypt’s Shura Council, New NGO Law Brings Controversy. March 26, 2013.
18. Nermeen Mohamed, On the Presidency’s Draft NGO Bill. May 8, 2013.
19. Nermeen Mohamed, On the Presidency’s Draft NGO Bill. May 8, 2013.
20. CIHRS, Morsi’s Government Must Withdraw Bill to Nationalize Civil Society from Shura Council and Reject FJP Bill to Stifle Human Rights Organizations. February 28, 2013.
21. CIHRS, Morsi’s Government Must Withdraw Bill to Nationalize Civil Society from Shura Council and Reject FJP Bill to Stifle Human Rights Organizations. February 28, 2013.
22. Daily News Egypt, NSF Accuses Brotherhood of Attempting to Repress Civil Society Through NGO Law.” May 18, 2013.
23. Kenneth Roth, Egypt’s NGO Funding Crackdown. April 9, 2013.
24. Kenneth Roth, Egypt’s NGO Funding Crackdown. April 9, 2013.
25. UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Egypt Risks Drifting Further Away from Human Rights Ideals that Drove Revolution- Pillay. May 8, 2013.
26. EMHRN, Human Rights Compromised in Egypt. March 11, 2013.
27. Freedom House, Draft NGO Law Will Cripple Egyptian Civil Society.