A draft law in Egypt curbing the independence of local NGOs has angered aid workers and bodes ill for civil society freedom, experts say.
The bill, which is due to go to parliament for endorsement in its current session, would tighten the government’s supervision of local NGOs and attempt to mute opposition in parliamentary elections later this year and presidential elections next year, activists say.
“Egypt’s civil society is crippled already with laws that curb its freedom,” Baheieddin Hassan, head of local NGO the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, told IRIN. “The new law will inhibit civil society even more by doing what amounts to nationalizing it.”
The new law, which was leaked to the local press (Arabic) on 7 March, would usher in a new government-appointed association called the General Federation for Civil Society Organizations. It would be responsible for authorizing the work of local NGOs.
Civil society activists and NGOs who work without authorization from, or registration with, this association could be sent to prison.
|The new law will inhibit civil society even more by doing what amounts to nationalizing it.|
Hassan and the representatives of more than 60 other local NGOs expressed vehement opposition to the new law in a statement (Arabic) released last week.
They said such attempts by the government to “suffocate” NGOs are a reflection of its inability to tolerate the presence of an active and independent civil society.
The new law gives the government, by way of the new association, the right to intervene in the board elections of the country’s NGOs.
Many civic organizations, from human rights NGOs to pro-democracy think-tanks, to single-issue advocacy groups have managed to escape the grasp of the government for years, allowing the proliferation of a strong and increasingly sophisticated human rights movement in Egypt.
In addition to these non-profit organizations, there have been other groups that have aggressively lobbied for change and political reform, including the protest group Kefaya (Enough) and National Society for Change. The latter is led by Mohamed el-Baradei, former chief of the international atomic energy watchdog, who is currently touring Egypt to rally support for political and constitutional reform.
“These movements and non-profit corporations seem to have unnerved the government on many occasions by their continuous demands for reform,” said Hafez Abu Saeda, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, by far the country’s largest rights group. “So the government thought up this law to bring them all to an end.”
Opponents of the new law say it will put restrictions on civil society funding.
Instead of receiving funding directly from donor organizations and countries, NGOs will have to apply to the Social Solidarity Ministry for it to decide whether they deserve the funding.
“These applications must, of course, go to a state security office for investigation,” said Hassan. “This means that Egypt’s state security will manage the whole thing.”
However, officials from the Social Solidarity Ministry said the proposed law aims to regulate Egypt’s civil society and not impede its work. “We’re still discussing all views in this regard,” said Aziza Youssef, head of the civil society section in the ministry.
“We’re keen to satisfy all the needs of Egypt’s civil society through the new law,” she said in recent statements to the press.
Egypt’s civil society activists expect the new law to be approved by the ruling National Democratic Party-controlled parliament in May.
They said they will hold several meetings in the days ahead to put more pressure on the government to ditch the law and give the country’s civil society more freedoms.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions