ALERT/EGYPT: New Law Harshly Restricts NGOs’ activities

Alerts, Egypt, Mashrek, Shrinking Space for Civil Society

This Monday 29 May, President Sisi approved a new law regulating the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which will severely restrict their activities. EuroMed Rights strongly condemns the ratification of this law that will make it almost impossible for an independent civil society to survive in Egypt.

The law, passed in November at Parliament’s level but shelved for the past six months after international outcry, is extending the list of prohibited activities on the ground of national security. It suggests that NGOs could support and finance terrorist organisations or violence, making them potentially liable under the law on terrorist organisations that violates international standards.

New provisions now compel NGOs to inform the authorities about their funds, even before their collection, according to instructions to be issued by the Ministry of Social Solidarity within the next two months (article 23). In comparison, the previous draft of this law, already very restrictive, used to state that money could not be spent before the ministry’s approval. From now on, donations above 10,000 Egyptian Pounds will need to be pre-approved and transferred from a bank subject to Egypt’s Central Bank auditing or through a paper check. Failure to do so could result in jail terms and heavy fines. Conducting surveys and research without license will be considered as illegal, subjected to one-year punishment under article 88. The law also empowers the government to decide who can establish an NGO. It restricts even more foreign NGOs’ activities by requiring the approval of a council, formed mainly of security agencies, to allow government bodies to have agreements with them on civil society work (article 59). It also makes it possible to cancel the working permit of a foreign NGO, for “reasons pertaining to threats to national security or public safety or undermining public order or according to the principle of reciprocity.”

All international human rights NGOs have already left Egypt since 2012 because of the authorities’ judicial crackdown on their work as part of case 173/2011, but this new law means that all other remaining international NGOs might need to leave the country as well as they will most probably find themselves unable to operate.

In this context, we urge the EU not to take any step forward in its relations with Egypt in a context where there is no sign of meaningful human rights and democratic reform currently taking place. The EU cannot expect to have a thriving bilateral relation with a country that eradicates its own civil society and locks up any form of peaceful dissent. The NGO law, drafted without consultation of independent civil society, is clearly violating the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of association and Egypt’s international legal commitments.