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Egypt: New Law Enacted Regulating Activities of Nongovernmental Organizations

(Sept. 11, 2019) On August 19, 2019, Egyptian president Abdu Al-Fatah Al-Sisi ratified Law No. 149 of 2019 on activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Repealing the controversial Law No. 70 of 2017, which defenders of human rights and civil society in Egypt feared would practically ban NGOs from carrying out their work and “eliminate civil society in Egypt,” the new Law, comprising 97 articles, addresses how the Ministry of Social Solidarity monitors the funding and activities of domestic and international NGOs in the country and imposes a number of fines against violators.

Key Provisions of the Law

After defining “civic foundations” and “nongovernmental organizations” in article 1, the Law provides in article 2 that individuals wishing to register an NGO must notify the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Article 3 mandates that NGO activities must not violate the constitution, public order, general moral standards, and national security. The Law, however, does not define the terms “public order” and “general moral standards.” According to article 5, foreign nationals holding temporary or permanent residency may participate in establishing a domestic NGO, and their numbers must not exceed 25% of the total number of members or managers of the organization.

Article 9 grants Egyptian authorities the right to reject the registration of any NGO, whether foreign or domestic, within 60 days of the date that the authorities are notified of the NGO’s establishment. The justification for the rejection could be that the activities of the NGO are criminalized under the Penal Code or in violation of the public order or the Egyptian constitution.

Article 15 of the Law prohibits domestic and foreign NGOs from pursuing activities that violate “national security,” “public order,” “public morals,” and “national unity.” Again, the Law does not define any of these terms. Article 15 also forbids NGOs from conducting political activities; entering into agreements with foreign entities; conducting opinion polls and surveys; relying on foreign persons as experts, employees, or volunteers; participating in workshops abroad without prior approval of the Egyptian authorities; and funding election campaigns. According to article 19, any cooperation between an Egyptian NGO and a foreign entity requires prior authorization from Egyptian authorities.

Article 23 requires NGOs operating in Egypt to open a bank account that would be monitored by the Central Bank. Article 27 allows foreign and domestic NGOs operating in the country to receive funding from Egyptians and foreign persons residing abroad or foreign persons residing inside the country. The Ministry of Social Solidarity must be informed of the funding transaction as well as the amount of funding, and is then given a period of 60 days to challenge the transaction, during which such funding cannot be spent. Article 30 authorizes representatives of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to monitor all activities of an NGO and, on providing an unspecified amount of advance notice, enter its headquarters at any time to observe activities and review books and records.

Article 45 grants the power to the minister of Social Solidarity to order the temporarily halt of activities and the closure of the headquarters of domestic NGOs for up to one year in a number of circumstances, including the NGO’s moving to a different address without notifying the ministry in advance. The ministerial order could be challenged before a court within seven days from the issuance date. Likewise, article 47 of the Law authorizes the court on the basis of the minister’s request to dissolve a domestic NGO or remove its board of trustees or board of directors. It also empowers authorities to halt activities or cancel permits of foreign NGOs that are deemed in violation of the penal code or receiving foreign funding without the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

Article 65 requires all foreign NGOs interested in opening branches in Egypt to obtain permission from the Egyptian authorities, and article 66 mandates that foreign NGOs and development agencies submit a request to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive permission to operate in the country. The permission is to be issued by the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Article 68 forbids foreign NGOs operating in Egypt from engaging in any political activities, including the funding of political parties, religious activities, or any activity violating national security or public morals. Similarly, in accordance with article 70, foreign NGOs operating in Egypt are prohibited from transferring money to foreign entities or individuals from its bank accounts in Egyptian banks without the permission of the Egyptian minister of Social Solidarity. Under article 71, foreign NGOs are required to provide the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity with periodic financial and activity reports reflecting activities carried out by such organizations. According to article 72, foreign NGOs must not hire any foreign nationals as staff members in Egypt without the approval of the minister of Social Solidarity. Article 74 stipulates that if the NGO is deemed in violation of any of the provisions of Law No. 149, the Ministry of Social Solidity has the right to shut down its offices in Egypt and suspend its activities.

Article 94 of the Law imposes a fine of 100,000 to one million Egyptian pounds (EGP) (about US$6,000 to $60,000) on NGOs that operate without permission from the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, or transfer or receive funds without the approval of the Egyptian authorities. Also, article 95 imposes a fine of EGP50,000–EGP500,000 (about US$3,000–$30,000) on organizations that spend their funds on activities deemed by the Egyptian authorities to be in violation of Law No. 149 or the bylaws of the NGO. The same penalties are imposed on NGOs that refuse to provide data or information to the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity about the organization’s activities. Finally, article 97 allows the Egyptian authorities to confiscate assets and bank accounts of NGOs deemed guilty by the court of violating articles 94 and 95 of the Law and gives the court the right to shut down and suspend the activities of those NGOs.