Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is concerned by the passage of a new law in Egypt that local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say “effectively eradicates civil society.”
On 15 November, the Egyptian Parliament passed the Civic Association Law, which places complete responsibility for administering civil society on government departments and the security apparatus. The arrangement comes after a government-sponsored bill containing similarly restrictive measures was unanimously rejected by rights groups in September this year. However, measures in the new legislation have been denounced as being even more draconian.
The new legislation creates a body known as the “National Agency for the Regulation of Foreign Non-Governmental Organisations”, which will comprise officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry for International co-operation and from State security bodies. NGOs must apply to this agency for legal status, and prove that they meet expansive registration conditions, such as not engaging in “activities that might harm the national security of the country, or activities that might violate the public order, morals, or health.” The law grants the government right of veto on any resolution passed by a registered organisation, and officials will have jurisdiction over other NGO business, such as board appointments and frequency of meetings. An application for registration that does not receive a response within two months is automatically rejected.
Any organisation that conducts activities without legal permission risks custodial sentences of five years imprisonment and fines of up to LE1 Million (approximately £50,500) for its staff. This includes co-operating with any organisation inside the country that has links with any outside foreign body, including the United Nations (UN). In addition, NGO staff will be held criminally liable for any administrative error made by the government agency.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “The restrictive nature of this new law gives the unfortunate impression that it was enacted not only to regulate NGOs, but also to curtail them. Civil society is vital to the development of a thriving democracy; however, the excessive penalties outlined within this legislation put its role at risk.”
“In addition to the fact that the legislation has been rushed through parliament in just three days, it also contravenes stipulations on freedom of association contained within Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt has signed and ratified. CSW has had concerns about the increasing pressures on NGOs for some time, but this latest measure is the most worrying development to date. It could potentially abolish important and established NGOs, including civil society organisations providing vital services and support across the country. We appeal to the Egyptian government to review this legislation as a matter of urgency.”