Fact Sheet – The Dangers of Egypt’s Pending NGO Law
This fact sheet is also available in a PDF version.
March 30, 2017
On November 29, 2016, the Egyptian Parliament voted overwhelmingly to pass a draconian new NGO law.* The legislation, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has not yet signed, contravenes international human rights standards and Egypt’s own constitution. The pending law is even more repressive than Egypt’s existing NGO Law (84/2002). If ratified, the law could make it impossible for many Egyptian and international NGOs to operate and would be a troubling step in al-Sisi’s campaign to crush human rights activity and tighten security control over all of civil society.
Parliament rushed the law through without any meaningful consultation with civil society. Members of the quasi-official National Council for Human Rights, as well as numerous Egyptian NGOs, have harshly criticized the law. U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) strongly objected to the legislation, as have the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and many international organizations.
The law would tighten government powers over local NGOs. The law would require all citizen organizations to undergo an onerous registration process or be deemed illegal. It would expand authorities’ powers to intrude into NGO operations, allowing them to reject internal management decisions and inspect documents and activities at will. Cooperation with “any local or foreign entity” would be illegal without explicit permission. Courts, which often lack independence, could dissolve NGOs with no right of appeal.
The law would impose potentially crippling constraints on funding. All funding from donors outside Egypt—support crucial to many NGOs, especially human rights organizations critical of the government—would have to be approved by a new “National Authority for Regulating International NGOs” that includes security, defense, and intelligence officials. NGOs could not spend even domestic donations without explicit permission.
The law would criminalize peaceful, legitimate civic activism. NGOs would be allowed to conduct only “social development” work in line with Egypt’s official development plan. The law would prohibit activities the state deems “political” or “harmful to national security.” Public opinion surveys, “field research,” and publication of reports would be illegal without prior approval. Criminal punishments would be even harsher than those in Law 84. Carrying out “political” activities, accepting foreign funding, or simply conducting research could result in five years in prison and a fine of up to 1 million Egyptian Pounds (about $55,000). The law also would permit authorities to apply even more drastic punishments found in the penal code, including life imprisonment for receiving foreign funding “harmful to the national interest.”
The law would place even greater restrictions on foreign NGOs. Foreign NGOs would require prior approval from the National Authority to operate in Egypt. They would have to purchase a $20,000 permit; this fee would increase by 20 percent every five years. Foreign NGO activities deemed “political,” conflicting with the national development plan, or “harmful to national security” would be illegal. Cooperation with Egyptian organizations would be prohibited without government permission.
The law would conflict with Egypt’s constitution, international democratic norms, and the pledges Egypt made during its 2014 UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review. The pending law appears to violate Article 75 of the Constitution, and contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982. Contrary to Egyptian government assertions [Ar], the pending law bears zero resemblance to Western democracies’ NGO laws, which help civil society flourish, not criminalize it.
* For background, see inter alia: International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), “Information Update: Egyptian Parliament approves restrictive new draft CSO law,” November 2016; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), “Egypt: A Letter and Legal Memorandum to the President: Demanding the Repeal of the NGO Law,” December 2016, http://www.cihrs.org/?p=19328&lang=en