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Egypt: President Ratifies NGO Law

(June 9, 2017) On May 24, 2017, President Abdul Al-Fatah Al-Sisi of Egypt signed Law No. 70 of 2017, on non-governmental organizations (NGOs).  (Law No. 70 of 2017, 20 AL-JARIDDAH AL RASMYAH (duplicate) (May 24, 2017) (in Arabic).)  This Law repeals Law No. 84 of 2002.  (Sisi Passes a Law Organizing the Work of NGOs, ELAKHBARY (May 30, 2017) (in Arabic).)  The new Law governs how foreign NGOs operate in the country.  The Law had been passed by a two-thirds majority of the Council of Representatives (the Parliament) in November 2016 and became effective on May 25, 2017.  (Ahmed Aboulenein, Egypt Issues NGO Law, Cracking Down on Dissent, REUTERS (May 29, 2017); George Sadek, Egypt: People’s Assembly Passes NGO Law with Two-Thirds Advice, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Dec. 2, 2016); see also George Sadek, Egypt: Parliament Provisionally Approves Legislation Regulating NGOs, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Nov. 22, 2016).)  The Prime Minister has two months to issue executive regulations to implement the Law.  (Law No. 70, art. 6.)

Key Provisions of the Law

The new Law, in 89 articles, limits the work of international organizations operating in Egypt.  The Law stipulates that foreign NGOs interested in operating in Egypt must obtain advance approval from a new government body, the National Authority for Regulation of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations, before beginning operations.  (Id. art. 2.)  All foreign NGOs operating in the country are given a grace period of one year from the enforcement date of  the Law to complete registration with this new body.  (Id.)

The Law also establishes a National Authority for the Regulation of Non-Governmental Organizations (id. art. 70), which will have its own director and will include representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Justice, the Interior, International Cooperation, and Social Solidarity, as well as the General Intelligence Services, the Central Bank of Egypt, and the government’s anti-money laundering unit (id. art. 72).

The Law sets out restrictions on how NGOs deal with received donations and funding.  NGOs may not use donated money for work related to political activities, such as funding parliamentary candidates or political parties, or for inciting hatred, spreading sectarian tension, or damaging national security.  (Id. arts. 13 & 14.)  Foreign NGOs operating in the country must seek the approval of the Central Bank to open a bank account to deposit donations and funds.  (Id. art. 22.)  Donations to any NGO that amount to more than 10,000 Egyptian pounds (about US$552) will need to be pre-approved, and money transfer transactions between bank accounts are subject to audits or paper checks by Egypt’s Central Bank, done both by electronic means and paper record checks.  (Id.)

The Law imposes penalties against violators. For instance, no NGO is allowed to carry out or publish the results of a study or survey without prior permission from the government security organizations.  Those who violate this provision could receive sentences of up to one year in prison and fines of between 20,000 and 500,000 Egyptian pounds (about US$1,100 to $27,600).  (Id. art. 88.)  A punishment of imprisonment for between one year and five years and a fine of between 50,000 and one million Egyptian pounds (about US$27,606 to $55,211) will be imposed on those who cooperate with foreign organizations and work in civil society without a permit and without prior approval.  (Id. art. 87(d).)  Civil society is defined under the Law as all projects carried out by NGOs aimed at the development of the society.  (Id. art. 1.)  NGOs are prohibited from opening headquarters or offices in any province without written approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity.  (Id. art. 21.)  If the headquarters of an NGO is moved somewhere other than the originally registered location without permission for the move having been obtained, the designated court will order the dissolution of the NGO’s board.  (Id. art. 42(i).)

Possible Repercussions of and Reactions to the New Law

By its approval of the new Law, the Government of Egypt could jeopardize the receipt of a portion of the annual U.S. aid to Egypt. The Deputy Director for Policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED, a nonprofit organization), Cole Bockenfeld, stated that 15% of U.S. government aid is conditional on whether the government of Egypt impedes the ability of civil society organizations and the media to operate freely without any government pressure.  Bockenfeld also stated that it is up to the discretion of the U.S. Secretary of State to either waive these conditions in order to release this portion of the aid or to enforce them and suspend the assistance.  (Rana Mamdouh, Sisi Approves NGO Law over 6 Months After It Receives Parliament’s Approval, MADA-MASR (May 29, 2017).)

Human rights activists and members of civil society opposed the law.  For example, Mohamed Zaree, Egypt’s Program Director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told the Reuters news agency that the new law on NGOs was “the worst in history” and would practically ban NGOs from carrying out their work.  (Egypt’s Sisi Approves Controversial NGO Law, AL JAZEERA (May 29, 2017).)  Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, stated that “[t]he law eliminates civil society in Egypt, whether human rights or development organizations.”  (Egypt Approves Draconian NGO Law Targeting Civil Society, AL-ARABY (May 30, 2017).)