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Study: Influence of civil society practitioners on law

Mon, Sep. 9, 2019
CAIRO – 9 September 2019: The Egyptian House of Representatives has approved on its plenary session on July 17, 2019, the draft law proposed by the Minister of Social Solidarity, and it was ratified and issued by the President of the Republic on Wednesday 21/08/2019 under No. 149 of 2019, replacing the previous law No. 70 of 2017, which has not entered into force (due to the absence of its executive regulation) since its promulgation in May 2017 until its abolition.

The new law has been praised on many levels including the legislative level, civil society figures, and even those who disagree with the political leadership.

The Human Right Unit at the State Information Service (SIS) has published a study titled:”The Influence of Civil Society Practitioners on the current Civil Society Law.”

In the below lines a copy of this study available on the unit’s official website:

The constitution is the supreme legal reference in Egypt, and articles of the 2014 constitution have constituted a considerable shift in the establishment of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). For the first time, Egyptians have been granted the right to establish civil society organizations upon notification and now associations may not be dissolved without a court order[1]. Furthermore, the constitution contains an article affirming on the State’s commitment to the international conventions and covenants on human rights ratified by Egypt.[2]

The law no. 70 of 2017 on associations and other organizations working in the field of civil action was issued to facilitate the work of the civil society in Egypt, nonetheless, it was subjected to a wave of criticism on both domestic and international levels. In the meantime, the existence of some practical difficulties hindered the issuance of its executive regulation, all of that inclined the political leadership to order the formation of a committee chaired by the Minister of Social Solidarity[3], to synthesize all reservations and observations on the law.

In line with this directive, the Human Rights Unit of the State Information Service prepared and submitted to the committee a number of proposed amendments to the provisions of Law no. 70, which included the abolition of the National Regulatory Agency for the Work of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations established pursuant to the provisions of the law, as well as the abolition of penalties involving deprivation of liberty, and make them confined to fine and administrative sanctions.

After several meetings with various concerned parties topped by civil society representatives, the committee agreed to propose a new draft law that could address the legal deficiencies of the previous one and can be flexible and precise enough to solve all potential problems and ultimately a law that comes in line with the provisions of Article (75) of the constitution of Egypt and international standards.[4]

The Egyptian House of Representatives has approved on its plenary session on July 17, 2019, the draft law proposed by the Minister of Social Solidarity, and it was ratified and issued by the President of the Republic on Wednesday 21/08/2019 under No. 149 of 2019, replacing the previous law No. 70 of 2017, which has not entered into force (due to the absence of its executive regulation) since its promulgation in May 2017 until its abolition.

The new law has been praised on many levels including the legislative level, civil society figures, and even those who disagree with the political leadership.

o The Speaker of the House of Representatives Dr. Ali Abdel Al said during the deliberation of the draft bill, that the civil society is a key partner in the development process and that the State shall leverage the civil society. He added that the bill responded to 99 percent of the concerns of the local and international civil society workers. [5]

o The Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Social Solidarity of the Egyptian House of Representatives Mohamed Abu Hamed has confirmed that the new law is in alignment with the general principles of all previously drafted bills, emphasizing that it reflects the appreciation and need of the State to the civil society. He also stressed the fact that the new law is addressing all international and national concerns. He added that those opposed the previous law and claimed the enactment of the draft law proposed by the government are still criticizing the new law even after its adoption. Abu Hamed identified the major positive aspects of the law, such as the abolition of all articles relevant to the supervision of the security apparatus on the work of the civil society, a power that was later transferred in the new law to the ministry of solidarity. Moreover, the clarity of the procedures of notifying authorities with the establishment of the organization, as well as of fundraising and recipient of foreign funds. Furthermore, the elimination of all penalties involving the deprivation of liberty, and the encouragement of companies and persons to launch initiatives in coordination with designated ministries [6]

o Hafez Abu Seada, President of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and a Member of the National Council for Human Rights, has commented that the process of issuing this law has witnessed a great advantage represented in the community dialogue that was held and the recommendations of the civil society organizations that were taken into consideration during the formulation of the law. Abu Seada also mentioned that the law has achieved 80 percent of the demands of the civil society represented in firstly, the registration upon notification as stipulated in the constitution. Secondly, the need of the issuance of a court order to suspend the activity of any civil society organization. And thirdly is about the finance, that the law estimated 60 days for the designated authority to respond to the request of the NGO on the recipient of funding, and in case it did not respond through this period, it shall be deemed as an approval. Moreover, the other added value of the law is the removal of all custodial sentences, unless there is a crime punishable by the public law like theft or misappropriation, and the violation of the law are punishable by strict fines only. The Chargé d' affaires of the U.S Embassy in Cairo, Thomas H. Goldberger, in his meetings with number of journalists emphasized that the newly-approved law of NGOs is a positive step in the right path towards empowering the civil society to participate and play a successful role in the society.[7]
o Alaa Shalaby, the President of the Arab Organization for Human Rights said “there is a good intention from the State, we took part in the consultation process on the law with the State represented in the Ministry of Social Solidarity, and this process was useful to everyone, even there was some notices on the text, there was a consensus and a space for dialogue and understanding and that was important”, he added “ the NGOs law is the best form of law issued compared to the previous laws e.g., Law 32/1964, Law 153/1999 or Law 84/2002 and of course Law 70/2017.[8]

o Negad El Boraai, a human rights lawyer, said “I feel happy and satisfied .. this law crowns the struggle of the General Union of Associations, the Regional Unions, the Civil Society associations and some of those organizations who work in the field of human rights and are eager to see a more just law organizing the civil society work in Egypt. NGOs have gained three benefits out of that law: firstly, the registration upon notification. Secondly, the reluctance of administrative authorities to respond on requests of foreign or domestic fundraising is considered an approval, and accordingly NGOs can directly spend the grant. Thirdly, no dissolution of an NGO can be made without a court order, moreover, it cannot be implemented until the issuance of that order, and even on what has been established in the law as violations that deserve the suspension of that NGO activity, the administrative authorities have to file violations to the court in one week, nonetheless all charges will be dropped. And finally, there are no custodial sentences.”[9]

• Former Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Ziad Bahaa El-Din believes that the law did not meet the expectations of the civil society yet, however, it offers a huge progress in comparison to the previous law which was disastrous as he described it. Dr. Bahaa El-Din also thinks that this law deserves appreciation as it underscored a lot of positive gains for the civil society including the notification procedure, the facilitation of the establishment and management of NGOs, the rational supervision on foreign funding as it is considered acceptable if designated authority failed to respond within a certain time limit, and most importantly, the elimination of all custodial sentences and replacing them with fines. The law also introduced the idea of temporary entity, like campaigns and civil society initiatives which do not need to have a legal person. The law also contains comprehensive provisions organizing the action of foreign and international civil society organization and enhanced the voluntary work.

All of the aforementioned statements emphasized the fact that the new law is a result of a community dialogue that included all concerned parties, especially the civil society representatives. Furthermore, they addressed several points that were mentioned in the law e.g., the registering registration upon notification , juristic persona, the illegality of dissolving any NGO without a court order, and the encouragement of regional and international organizations to open offices in Egypt. The rest of the new points are going to be reviewed and compared with the previous law No. 70 of 2017, which came in twenty-four points all in favor of civil work and civil society and its institutions. And can be dealt with as follows:
1.
1. Increasing the percentage of non-Egyptians to membership in civil organizations
 The new law has increased the percentage of representation of non-Egyptians in the membership of civil organizations and their boards from 10 % to 25% of its members
2. The right of the organization to set its bylaw without being restricted to with a specific guidance
 The new law granted civil society organizations the right to put their own bylaw freely, on contrary to the old law which used to oblige organizations to use a specific guided model attached to the executive regulation of the law. The new law also added an obligation on civil society organizations to include in their bylaw a section on volunteering and volunteers’ rights and obligations, to encourage the recruitment of volunteers and their engagement in civil society.
3. Facilitation of requisite documentations and the reduction of fees of registration.
 The new law facilitates the procedures by which an organization is to be established. The new law requires the contract of the organization’s premises to be only legal unlike the previous law which required it to be an official and authenticated one, which was difficult for those who wanted to establish an organization as many documents and contracts were not authenticated. Also, the Egyptian law does not acknowledge the authentication of rent contracts, which indicated that anyone who wanted to establish an organization has to be owner of the premises and its contract shall be authenticated in the Real Estate Registration Office. Nonetheless, the new law only conditions the contract to be legal, which could allow non-owners to establish their organizations, only by proving the date of rent, or if he was an owner, he has to obtain a judgment on the contract signature validation. Besides, the new law has reduced the fees of registry from 10,000 L.E to 5,000 L.E.
4. The right to launch initiatives and campaigns
 A new article was added in the new law to encourage the launch of initiatives for one of the permitted activities. This article granted legal entities and persons the right to launch a campaign or an initiative for a year-long after getting permission from the administrative authority.
5. Allowing organizations to perform previously non-permitted activities
 The new law allows organizations to deliver academic or professional certificates after getting the proper permission from the administrative authority. Moreover, it allows them to do field research and surveys and to publish their findings after receiving an approval from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, contrary to the previous law which prohibited giving certificates in general and required the approval of a now-abolished agency before conducting any survey or publishing any result.
6. Abolition of the subordination of NGOs to Accountability State Authority
 The new law has terminated the supervision of all civil society organizations and NGOs to the Accountability State Authority.
7. The right of associations to join or participate in other associations or bodies or local organizations after notifying the administrative authority.
 The current law encourages the partnership of local NGOs to perform civil society activity, where the current law grants this right by notification only, unlike the previous law which required obtaining an authorization from the administrative authority.
8. Allowing organizations to open offices in different governorates by notifications only
 The current law grants associations the right to open offices in different governorates only by notifying the administrative authority, unlike the previous law which required obtaining prior written approval from the designated Minister.
9. Accommodating children, the elderly and the sick.
 The new law added an article to ensure the appropriate accommodation for children and elderly, sick people and those with special needs and to ensure its suitability for its purpose
10. The right to receive funding from within Egypt
 The current law facilitates receiving funds from within Egypt, allowing organizations to achieve their goals without the restriction that the funds should be received by a check or bank deposit as it was in the previous law, as the current law allows receiving funds in cash.
11. The right of organizations to receive donations in Egypt with prior authorization.
 The current law encompasses a new article to give organizations the right to raise funds and receive donations within Egypt after obtaining prior authorization for the entire activity of fundraising process but not for every single fundraising like stated in the previous law.
12. The right to collect donations
 The current law includes a new article that gives the right to any natural or legal person other than civil society organizations to collect donations from the public, on condition that the administrative authority shall be notified three days earlier at most.
13. The approval on receiving foreign funds if the administrative authority failed to respond
 The new law sets a new precedent through adding a provision stipulates that foreign funds requests are deemed accepted if the administrative authority failed to respond within 60 days, in contrast to the provision of the previous law which considered the case of not replying as refusal. This provision aims to facilitate the recipient of funding from outside Egypt and to empower civil society organizations to achieve their goals
14. The prohibition of the access of State officials to the organization without notification.
 The current law ensures organizations’ right to privacy, as it prevents representatives of the administrative authority to enter the offices of any organization without their notice, except in the case of an official complaint. This is the exact opposite of the previous law which gave the State officials the right to enter the organization’s premises without notices.
15. The Establishment of companies and charity investment funds
 The current law grants organizations opportunities to develop their own resources, adding a new paragraph allowing them to establish or contribute to the establishment of a company, charity investment funds, and revenue investment.
16. The reduction of number of board members and the increase of the duration of the appointment of the first board
 The current law reduces the minimum number of members of the board to five members, instead of seven, also, the current law increases the duration of the first board term to four years instead of two as provided in the previous law.
17. Allowing the combination of two offices: being a board member and an employee in the administrative authority
 The current law permits the combination of board membership and the work in the administrative authority or in any other public agency assigned to oversee or supervise an organization provided that there is a written permission from the Prime Minister, unlike the previous law which prohibited the combination
18. Reduction of registration fees for foreign NGOs
 The current law reduces the fees on work permits for foreign non-governmental organizations to L.E 50,000, instead of L.E 300,000 as stipulated in the previous law so as to encourage them to work in Egypt and to facilitate the whole process
19. Abolishing the National Agency for Organizing the Work of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations
 The current law abolishes the article provided for the establishment of the National Agency for Organizing the Work of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations. It is worth noting that the agency had been a subject of criticism by some for its composition of representatives of the General Intelligence Service and the Ministries of Defense and Interior, describing it as a security tool to restrict the work of organizations subjected to the provisions of this law and to end the independence of civil society.
20. The Establishment of a unit at the Ministry of Social Solidarity
 The new law stipulates the establishment of a new unit that includes a number of employees of the Ministry of Social Solidarity after they successfully pass training and tests. This unit is assigned to supervise and oversee all civil society associations, organizations and unions in Egypt
21. The non-allocation of a percentage of the grants obtained by the organizations or licenses to raise money to the Fund to support NGOs and institutions.
 The article that stipulated deducting a percentage from grants received by NGOs to finance the civil society fund has been cancelled.
22. Contribution to the general associations’ union and the regional unions
 The current law grants the designated Minister the right to allocate a percentage not exceeding 25% of the registration fees to be spent on the activities of the aforementioned associations in the law
23. Volunteerism
 The current law contains a new section composed of one article on volunteerism, which reflects the importance of the role played by volunteers in civil society.
24. Twenty- five: custodial sentences-free law
 One of the positive aspects in the current law is the abolishment of all penalties involving deprivation of liberty that were in the last section of the previous law and were subjected to fierce criticism especially that the administrative and financial penalties were sufficient as long as the wrongdoing were not punishable by criminal law.

The study further provided a comparison table showing the similarities and differences between the current law and the previous one. To check the comparison table visit this

link

.


 
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