CAIRO – 12 September 2017: Egypt is not the only country in the world that seeks to legally regulate the work of civil society. Well-established democracies, such as the United States and the majority of European countries, have laws that govern civil society and allow the state to monitor and supervise NGO work. The new NGO law gives a one-year time span to comply with the new terms or organizations will have to suspend their activities and shut down.
Every nation does its best to preserve its national security and state order. Major countries have endeavored to take several measures to legalize and regulate NGOs operating in their land.
Despite the fact that civil society and non-governmental organizations work voluntarily and contribute to charity efforts, they have been abused in more than one instance by illegal groups for political gains, according to a study released by the Liberal Democracy Institute (LDI), an Egyptian think tank. The United States and European countries have suffered at the hands of these groups; a case in point being the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian branch, Hamas.
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi approved the new NGO law on May 31, after it was ratified by the House of Representatives last November following several months of discussions and study.
On August 22, Washington decided to withhold almost $300 million from Egypt over what it deemed a “controversial NGO law,” referring to the new law.
Three weeks after the decision, the U.S. Department of State has yet to issue a statement citing Washington’s concerns over the new legislation.
Egypt is still trying to recover from the impacts of the Muslim Brotherhood’s one year in power. The Muslim Brotherhood began as a charity group, before branching into the political arena. Most of the Brotherhood’s violent affiliates were recruited and trained as militias through the so-called “charity organization,” owned and operated by the MB since the early 2000s.
Egypt Today has run a series of in-depth articles discussing the newly approved NGO law, which regulates over 48,000 NGOs in Egypt.
Here is a comparison between the NGO laws in the U.K., Israel and Egypt, the target of which is to highlight Egypt’s facilitation given to NGOs compared to others in the U.K. and Israel.
Establishment of Associations
In order to establish a non-governmental organization in Egypt, a notice to the concerned authorities is sufficient to legalize the NGO.
According to British law, associations with capital less than £5000 ($6648) are established via notice, whereas an association registration application is filed for associations with more capital. The same applies to for-profit charities.
In Israel, establishing an NGO requires the submission of an association registration application, which is then sent by the founders to the Associations Registry.
Legal Impediments to the Establishment
In Egypt, the legal impediments to the establishment is only for violation of public order and morals, lack of commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and not adequately separating between civil, partisan and political activities.
In the British law, there are many other reasons, such as holding activities that are against the greater good, not being committed to only charitable activities, and not separating between charitable and political activities. Meanwhile, in Israel, an association cannot be established if one of its goals contradicts the existence of Israel and if there is evidence that the association will act as a cover-up for other activities.
Clarity and Ease of Reading the Legal Text
The Egyptian NGO law is clear-cut and not open to different interpretations. The law facilitates civil activities, encouraging new actors in the field, and not limiting such work for the benefit of a certain class.
The British and Israeli laws are too general and unclear, which gives the state apparatuses wide-ranging authority to track associations that disagree with their inclinations.
Human Rights Activities
Egyptian law has no restrictions on human rights activities, while British and Israeli laws have no restrictions on human rights activities.
State Support for Civil Work
The Egyptian state supports civil work through general state budget allocations for the purpose, which are then deposited in the Civil Work Fund, which the new law stipulates must be established.
Britain supports charities through general state budget allocations, while the Israeli law does not stipulate any state support for civil work.
The Egyptian law stipulates custodial penalties to deter transgressors and limit violations, in order to enhance civil work.
The British law stipulates custodial penalties if activities are resumed after a no-confidence motion. In other words, a no-confidence motion is one of the powers of the commission responsible for monitoring charities.
Under Israeli law, violations are punished according to the Penal Code. There is no clear-cut mention of custodial penalties.
Regulating Civil Work
Civil work is regulated by the ministry responsible for cooperating with the National Authority for Regulating Non-governmental Foreign Organizations and Foreign Funding, according to the Egyptian law, while the British law permits the Charity Commission to regulate NGOs’ work.
The registry responsible for civil work in Israel, the judiciary, legislative authority and executive authority, cooperatively regulate civil work, guaranteeing different levels of monitoring. Some consider this an over-complication of civil work.