More than two dozen Egyptian rights groups have objected to a draft law regulating NGOs on the grounds that it will restrict their activities and criminalize them.
A joint statement by 29 renowned local rights organisations said the bill in its latest form will subordinate NGOs to the security establishment and the government's administrative bodies, "shutting down the public sphere in Egypt to all but regime supporters."
They said the passing of this law might lead to the conviction and jailing of independent human rights defenders, a scenario they argue is similar to activists being jailed for breaching a contested protest law passed last year.
Violators of some provisions of the law are subject to at least one year imprisonment and/or a fine of at least LE100,000.
Local and international human rights organisations struggled under security surveillance for decades under the rule of Hosni Mubarak. They have also been regularly harassed, contested and accused of spying in the three years that followed the 2011 popular revolt.
"The problem is more of a lack of political will on the part of the government and security bodies to permit free civic action than it is a lack of knowledge of how to draft a liberal NGO law," the statement said.
Several of the statement's signatories have participated in discussions about the bill with the social solidarity ministry in July of last year, the statement said.
The latest draft, however, is different from the version they worked on and is repressive to NGOs, making the administrative body the real director of such groups, the rights groups said.
They argue that the draft law breaches the 2014 constitution as well as the country's international pledges.
"If the proposed law is adopted, it will put Egypt in a class with other countries with terrible NGO statutes, such as Ethiopia, Israel, China and Belarus, thus belying all government claims to democratisation and respect for human rights."
The statement detailed the major objections to the law, which includes assigning a security committee to regulate NGOs' activities and using ambiguous language to set forth prohibited activities.
It also demonstrates a clear hostility to foreign NGOs and restricts the right of associations to cooperate with or join a foreign association without notifying the social solidarity ministry, they said.
The signatories include the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, Al-Haqaniya Centre for Rights and Law and Al-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
Read the full statement.