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Egypt: Parliament to Finalize NGO Law Amendments in March

(Jan. 29, 2019) On January 16, 2019, Talaat Abdel Qawi, the Director of Egypt’s General Federation of NGOs, confirmed that a draft law amending Law No. 70 of 2017 regulating the work of nongovernmental organizations would be finalized in March and sent to the cabinet for review. According to Abdel Qawi, the Federation held four separate conferences on the level of Egyptian governorates “to hear the comments of non-governmental organizations on the draft law.” (Draft Law on NGOs to Be Finalized in March: Official, EGYPT TODAY (Jan. 16, 2019); Law No. 70 of 2017 Promulgating the Law Regulating Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work, AL-JARIDAH AL-RASMIYAH [OFFICIAL GAZETTE] (duplicate), 24 May 2017 (in Arabic), unofficial English translation, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law website.)

Legislative Background

The purpose of Law No. 70 of 2017 was to govern how foreign NGOs operated in the country and place limitations on their work. (For a discussion of the key provisions of the Law and the concerns of those opposed to it, see George Sadek, Egypt: President Ratifies NGO Law, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 9, 2017).)

In light of severe criticism of the Law for the restrictions it imposed on human rights and development NGOs and the harsh punishments it imposed for violations of its provisions, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approved the formation of a committee to amend the Law in early November 2018, and in mid-November, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly ordered the creation of the committee to oversee the Law’s amendment. (Egypt PM Forms Committee to Amend Law on NGOs, EGYPT INDEPENDENT (Nov. 17, 2018); Egypt to Amend 33 Articles of Those Restricting NGOs’ Work, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Dec. 4, 2018).)

The Speaker of the Council of Representatives (the Parliament), Ali Abdel-Aal, declared that the Parliament would ensure the transparency of the drafting process of the Law and allow the directors of the NGOs to contribute to the process. (Gamal Essam El-Din, Egypt’s NGO Law Under the Microscope, AL-AHRAM ONLINE (Nov. 24, 2018).)

Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity, Ghada Wally, who was appointed to head the oversight committee, said the committee started receiving suggestions from relevant stakeholders only a day after its formation, with most of the suggestions coming from prominent organizations in the country, the Egyptian Society of Accountants and Auditors, and the Administrative Control Authority. (Amendments of NGOs’ Law to Be Submitted to Cabinet Within Two Weeks, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Nov. 28, 2018).) She noted that the committee would conduct an open dialogue on proposed amendments with members of Parliament, members of NGOs, and youth groups in the civil society to ensure that the new Law would satisfy all parties concerned. (Egypt PM Forms Committee to Amend Law on NGOs, supra.) In addition, the committee would seek guidance in reforming the law by reviewing laws regulating the performance of NGOs in other countries. In late November 2018, Wally announced that the committee had finished its work. (Amendments of NGOs’ Law to Be Submitted to Cabinet Within Two Weeks, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (Nov. 28, 2018); Essam El-Din, supra.)

Amendments to the Law

Abdel Qawi revealed that under the draft law a new funding mechanism would be employed to ensure transparency in accepting foreign funding, with funds being accepted within 30 days instead of 60 once the NGO provides information on the funds’ source and destination and the manner the funds will be spent. The Ministry of Social Solidarity and concerned authorities would supervise the funds. (Draft Law on NGOs to Be Finalized in March, supra.)

In addition, the amended law reportedly stipulates that an NGO can be established in the country simply by notifying the government administrative body, which would then have 30 days to request the judiciary to stop the registration. The amended law would also exempt NGOs from paying 50% of their utility bills. Finally, Abdel Qawi stated that under the revised law, violating administrative laws would be punishable by a fine instead of imprisonment. (Id.)