Egypt Today's Editorial Board
CAIRO – 31 May 2017: President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi approved on Monday the new law that regulates the work of non-governmental organizations in Egypt. Despite the national consensus between the parliament, the government and thousands of NGOs, who were engaged in dialogue with the legislators, several Western rights groups criticized the law and launched a fierce media campaign against the Egyptian government. After carefully reviewing the law, we highlight some details that international rights groups should have considered when they slammed such an important law that regulates the civil society of a country facing unprecedented security and economic challenges.
The new NGO Law addresses issues that have intercepted social and community work for decades because the previous articles of the law (no. 23 for the year 1964, and no. 84 for the year 2002) created a state of distrust between NGOs and society. The new law that was recently approved by Parliament took the following considerations in mind:
1- Hands-on experience during the past years has affirmed the necessity for an authority which regulates and monitors the activity of foreign non-governmental social service organizations and foreign funds, to ensure that these organizations are properly activated and that the funds are spent in the appropriate channels that provide actual development for the country. This authority would facilitate the work of foreign NGOs seeking to open branches in Egypt, in addition to Egyptian NGOs that wish to receive foreign funds. As such the new authority unifies the previously active entities in the field so as to consolidate the process of receiving and managing applications and streamline the work of these organizations.
2- The law gives privileges as well as tax, tariff and service exemptions on the various activities of the NGOs.
3- The law stipulates a 1 percent deduction for the benefit of the NGOs fund, not as tax, but as a contribution to aid NGOs unable to pitch to foreign funding organizations.
4- The law provides non-official NGOs with a framework to legalize their activity.
5- The law will put an end to the state of doubt and distrust since it allows for transparency, publicity and corruption control procedures that monitor major funding sources and channels. It will also prohibit any NGO staff from profiteering and accumulating fund money in their personal bank accounts.
6- The law arises exclusively from popular will, since it was drafted and approved by the elected parliamentarians.
7- The law regulates the activity of non-official human rights organizations because it compels them to legalize their activity, and to be subjected to inspections and rules concerning their international connections and receiving foreign funds. All in all, there are 103 such organizations, 74 of which were investigated in the foreign funds case no. 173 for the year 2011. Most of them operate as non-profit civil organizations, and all of them receive foreign funding whose source they never disclose. These organizations do not only profit from foreign funding, but they also exploit the political situation and send the West exaggerated reports about the human rights situation in Egypt so they can maintain the incoming cash flow.
Furthermore, some of these local organizations collaborated with foreign organizations whose officials are listed as terrorists (Karama organization and its Qatari head, Abdul-Rahman Annuaimy, included in the American list of designated terrorists) in filing complaints against Egypt.
8- A massive-scale societal dialogue led to amending many of the articles of the law. Developmental associations and establishments run the dialogue, and their demands were answered.
9- The law is considered a response to the recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2014, upon review of the Egyptian human rights profile. Accordingly, Egypt was requested to amend law no. 24 for the year 2002, and the new law was framed in a manner that respects international covenants and agreements, which were validated and signed by Egypt, such as article no. 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article no. 75 of the Egyptian Constitution, not to mention bilateral agreements between Egypt and foreign NGOs.
10- The law quotes many articles from laws that regulate NGOs in countries like Britain, Israel and India, taking into account that many of these NGO laws are far stricter than their Egyptian counterparts.