Minister of Solidarity Ghada Wali. According to the law, NGOs should register at the Ministry of Solidarity - File photo
CAIRO – 31 May 2017: Egypt is not the only country in the world that seeks to regulate the work of civil society under the rule of law. 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 Liberal Democracy Institute (LDI) reported.
Egypt’s new NGOs law gives a one-year time span to comply with the new terms or they will have to suspend their activities and shut down. President Abdel-Fatah Sisi approved it after 6 months of its ratification by the Parliament.
Despite the fact that civil society and non-governmental organizations work voluntarily and contribute to charity works, they have been abused in more than one instance by illegal groups for political goals. The United States and European countries have suffered from these groups. One apparent example is the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian branch; Hamas.
According to the LDI report, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) released several documents proving the violations committed by many NGOs affiliated with the Brotherhood and Hamas.
Egypt is still trying to recover from the impacts of the Muslim Brotherhood’s one-year in rule. The Muslim Brotherhood began as a charity group, before heading to the political work. Most of the Brotherhood violent affiliates were recruited and trained as militias through the so-called charity organizations, owned and operated by the organization since the early 2000s.
Therefore, the Egyptian state needed to regulate the work of similar groups under the rule of law in a way that allows the state to supervise civil society and charity work. The old NGO law had too many loopholes that allowed illegal activities to be practiced by illegal groups, which seek receiving funds and execute destruction and disorder.
The LDI report stipulated that before its ratification in November 2016, the House of Representatives took enough time to study and discuss all the articles of the approved NGO law; the Parliament spent 18 months studying that law, taking into consideration opinions and recommendations by Egyptian and foreign legal experts and statesmen.
In November 2014, Egypt’s latest Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council received a high number of recommendations about issuing a new NGO law. Under such domestic and international pressures, issuing the new law was on the top of the Parliament’s priorities, when it first convened in 2015. However, since the approval of that law, Egypt has received many observations and criticism.
“Most of criticism to the new NGO Law revolved around this particular point. Under the old NGO Law no. 84/2002, Egyptian NGOs had an ill-experience with filling an infinite number of governmental documents to acquire legal registration. In some cases, the government bureaus took (several) months, if not years, to respond to the NGOs regarding the status of their registration.
As a result, the provision in the new NGO Law, to provide documents upon establishment to the respective government authority upon establishment raised concerns,” LDI added.
“However, the provision in the new NGO Law to submit documents to the government upon establishment, does not contradict with the constitutional right for the association to acquire legal personality upon notification.
It is rather a routine procedure that shall follow the acquirement of the legal personality, with the purpose to establish a clear relationship between the government and the new association.
In addition, the new NGO Law states that the government authority has to complete the documentation procedure with the new association within a maximum period of sixteen days,” LDI continued.
The new NGO law is full of advantages given to non-governmental organizations. According to the Article 16, here are some benefits:
• Exemption from paying registration fees of contracts of all kinds, such as property contracts and mortgage, where the association is a party, as well as all pertaining ratification fees.
• Exemption from taxes and stamp duties, whether they are currently imposed or shall be imposed in the future, on all kinds of contracts, authorizations, written and printed forms, official records, and other similar documents.
• Exemption from all property taxes for all buildings owned by the association, provided that the association uses these buildings for achieving its stated purpose, and the association may not change the nature of the activity without acquiring the approval of the competent minister.
• Acquiring a discount of 30 percent on the fees of transportation for equipment and machines related to the association’s activities, by the railway.
• Exemption from taxes and fees due to custom authorities, imposed on exported equipment, machines, tools, production utilities, and vehicles related to the association’s activities, as well as the gifts and aids the association receives from abroad, upon a decree by the competent prime minister, based on a recommendation from the competent minister and a review by the minister of Finance, provided that the exported utilities are necessary for the main activity of the association.
The association may not dispose the long-lived utilities, before five years of exporting them, without a prior decree from the competent minister in agreement with the minister of Finance, unless the association has paid the due custom fees and taxes.
The new NGO Law encourages foreign NGOs to work in Egypt. Unlike the old NGO Law no. 84/2002, it has devoted two full sections for explaining the finite details of how a foreign NGO or its representative office may register, operate, and receive funds for its projects.
The new NGO Law, also, allows foreign communities living in Egypt to establish their own bond or association as a foreign NGO, to defend the community’s interests and offer non-for-profit services to the members of the community.
Egypt has received much criticism by foreign organizations upon the approval of that law. This criticism came within the framework of the campaign against the Egyptian regime’s progress. Indeed, the new NGO Law has resolved the problem of approving foreign funds that local NGOs suffered under the old law. In the past, NGOs used to wait for months or even years to get an approval from the Administrative Authority on the foreign funds they receive.