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Egyptian Civil Society Worried About New NGO Bill

18 December, 2016
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Concerns and fear among activists and leaders of civil society have grown following the parliament's passing of a bill on November 29 that would seemingly regulate non-governmental organizations (NGO).

According to reports released by the state, the NGO bill seeks to tackle what the state has deemed as numerous threats leveled against national security by NGOs that receive funds from the country's political enemies.

“This bill will take its toll on all of civil society, be it rights organizations or not,” the founder and director of El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Aida Seif El-Dawla, told BECAUSE.

She listed some of her objections to the law. The bill states that it will establish an apparatus that will include representatives from the governmental and non-governmental sector, which will also include members from the ministrys of defense and interior and intelligence apparatus. This apparatus will work as a surveillance body that would have authority over NGOs listed in the country. Seif El-Dawla, along with many others in civil society, have a problem with the inclusion of these security bodies in such an apparatus.

“I disapprove of all the articles in the bill, including the prologue and the part where it says that the activities of organizations must agree with and feed into the state’s vision on development.” She finds that the state has failed to develop anything in the country, which is why she doesn’t see development as part of the state’s vision.

Seif El-Dawla argues that the bill is imprecise about some terms, like “public order” and “public morals”, and MP Nadia Henry agrees. There are punishments in the bill that would lead to prison sentences and fines reaching up to EGP 1 million, just for committing crimes that are put into words as ambiguous as "aiming to break national unity", Henry told BECAUSE.

“We say that we seek stability one day and the other day we’re passing a bill that looks as if it is meant to hinder the protection of the community. Civil society is already working toward easing burdens on citizens. Civil society already has a network for community protection. Civil society has a lot of activities that contribute to the fields of medical treatment, employment and even commodity support,” she added.  

From an economical perspective, which Henry’s opinions stem from as a member of the parliament's Economic Committee, the bill is not even appropriate considering Egypt's current economic situation.

“Civil society plays a vital role in helping the impoverished classes, fighting corruption and protecting the consumer. On a more financial scale, when international donations are pumped into Egypt's banks, it provides us with dollars and therefore improves the balance of the supply and demand of hard cash,” she explained.

Henry stressed upon the need for civil society to be able to practive its activities with independence and freedom.

On the other side of the argument, MP Mohamed Abu Hamed, a member of the parliament's Solidarity Committee, strongly believes that these security tools refuted by both Seif El-Dawla and Henry are vital for national security considering past experiences, when NGOs were allegedly using their credits to push terrorism and conspiracies.

He said that if the parliament had any dark intentions they wouldn’t have announced it. “We announced it loud and clear, that the national apparatus for organizing the work of foreign organizations will include security bodies so that they make sure that these foreign organizations aren’t here for other unannounced purposes or purposes that would threaten national security. And, now-a-days, I’m certain that the international community understands why we are doing so, especially after the terrorism wave that hit France and other western countries over the past couple of years,” he explained to BECAUSE.

Moreover, Abu Hamed stressed that all the decrees coming from the apparatus will be under the judiciary’s watch. The parliament will also dedicate a committee for appeals so if any organization felt that it faced injustice, bias or harassment from the apparatus the parliament will intervene to resolve this problem – although the MP also stressed that this won’t happen.

As for the ambiguous terms, Abu Hamed didn’t seem to refute this conviction and promised that they will add a guide for the terms to the bill’s executive regulations, including some definitions that would help clarify certain things.

More than 40 NGOs were raided and shut down since the filing of case number 173, known as “the lawsuit of foreign funding of NGOs,” in late 2011.

Tags NGOs parliament civil society