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Egyptian political parties stand with NGOs against new draft law

Six notable political parties call for dialogue to change an NGO law that they say is an 'fierce attack' against civil society

Ahram Online , Thursday 23 Oct 2014
Ghada Wali
Minister of social solidarity Ghada Wali defends the new NGO law saying it is needed for transparency (photo: Al-Ahram)
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Six political parties in Egypt announced their solidarity with civil society groups against a controversial new draft law for NGOs, accusing the government of continuing polices of "repression".

In a strongly worded statement issued on Thursday, several political parties condemned the government for launching a "fierce attack" on civil society groups, denouncing the new legislation as yet another episode of "escalation" in the crackdown on NGOs.

The parties, which include the left of centre Constitution Party and Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said the state is reintroducing draft legislation from 2002, the era of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, which critics say gives authorities wide sway over the activities and funds of civil groups.

Ghada Wali, minister of social solidarity, recently announced that all NGOs will be required to register with the government, as per the 2002 law. 

The ministry says that the move is meant to ensure transparency in NGOs' funding and activities so they're not used as a front for illegal conduct.

But critics of the new draft law say it allows for the same security surveillance they were subjected to before the 2011 uprising, as well as offering long jail terms for those who violate the law.

In an interview with Reuters earlier this week, Wali said civil society should not pre-judge the law, emphasising that the legislation is still subject to revision and amendments in the upcoming parliament.

Egypt expects to hold parliamentary elections by the end of the year.

Promising that the law will be in line with the constitution, the minister warned that the state would pursue unregistered groups.

"We will start asking different authorities to tell us what these entities are, because we don't know them all," she told Reuters. "(The organisations) will be contacted one by one with the forms and requested to come forward and comply with the law."

In its Thursday statement, the six political parties called for serious social dialogue over the law – with participation from democratic bodies, NGOs and the National Council for Human Rights – to draft a new piece of legislation that is compatible with international standards.

The parties said that a new NGO law should be discussed by the upcoming parliament and that the ministry of social solidarity should stop registering NGOs in accordance with the law.

The statement also warned that the government's actions – preventing citizens from organising NGOs to defend their rights democratically as well closing all channels of dialogue – will increase tension and violence in Egypt.

The six parties that signed the statement are The Socialist Popular Alliance Party, The Egyptian Popular Current, The Constitution Party, The Bread and Freedom Party, The Egyptian Social Democratic Party and The Free Egyptians Party.

Meanwhile, a group of human rights organisations launched a social media campaign this week to defend NGOs and civil society in Egypt against defamation campaigns in the media.

The campaign, called "A Right For You And Me", uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to introduce and define the role NGOs play in society as well as clarify their funding sources.

A three-minute clip explaining what NGOs do was also released on YouTube to increase awareness.

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