Two thirds of Egypt's MPs approved on Tuesday a new 89-article law aimed at regulating the operations of NGOs in the country.
The law, drafted by parliament's social solidarity committee, will give the existing NGOs one year to adjust their legal conditions – instead of six months as it was proposed in an earlier draft last week.
The law, which was reviewed in legal and constitutional terms by the State Council, also stipulates that the president will be exclusively empowered with naming the secretary-general of the National Foreign NGOs Regulation Apparatus (NFNRA) would regulate the operations of foreign NGOs in Egypt and monitoring all their sources of foreign funding.
The parliament’s speaker, Ali Abdel-Aal, told MPs that "the State Council recommended that article 75 of the law be amended to indicate in clear terms how the secretary-general of the NFNRA will be named."
"As a result," said Abdel-Aal, "parliament's social solidarity committee proposed that article 75 of the law be amended to safeguard the president's constitutional right to name heads of regulatory bodies, including a head of the NFNRA.
The law, according to article 70, stipulates that foreign NGOs seeking to operate in Egypt must secure prior approval from the NFNRA.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity opposed the creation of the new body, arguing that the ministry itself can perform regulatory activities "since it has a long experience in this field."
Last week, the ministry warned the in a letter sent to parliament that the creation of the NFNRA would be a costly and bureaucratic move especially at a time when the government is struggling to reduce budget deficit and implement administrative reform.
MPs, however, rejected the ministry's request, insisting that the new body primarily aims to prevent suspicious foreign funding of any disruptive political activity which could be conducted under the pretence of promoting democracy.
MPs also argued that the work of the new body would prevent foreign funding from being used to fund terrorist activities.
Article 70 states of the new law stipulates that the NFNRA would carry out its duties under the jurisdiction of Cabinet.
"This regulatory body will take charge of overseeing all the activities of foreign NGOs in Egypt, including all forms of their cooperation with governmental and non-governmental institutions inside the country, as well as supervising all forms of foreign funding given to local Egyptian NGOs and civil society organisations."
After gaining the approval of the overwhelming majority of MPs, Abdel-Aal said Egypt’s parliament has taken a historic move towards regulating the operations of NGOs on a new basis that would safeguard national security and prevents chaos.
The 89-article NGOs law gained initial approval from MPs in a plenary session on 15 November, after which it was referred to the State Council-affiliated Department of Legislation and Fatwas to be revised in constitutional and legal terms.
Joining forces, Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, chairman of parliament's social solidarity committee which drafted the law, expressed dismay that "some foreign players attempted to exert pressure on parliament to change some of the articles of this law.
"But we rejected all of these attempts and worked day and night to issue a law that will secure Egypt's national security and close the doors of any suspicious funding."
The head of parliament's pro-government coalition Support Egypt, Mohamed El-Sewedi, said that the law would help NGOs operating in Egypt focus on development activities.
"We have done our best to guarantee that this law was issued in a way that will be satisfactory to all those working in the NGO field," said El-Sewedi.
El-Sewedi said the parliament drafted the new law while keeping in mind proposals from the State Council and the General Union of NGOs.
"We also accepted some of the amendments proposed by the social solidarity ministry," said El-Sewedi.
He explained that "one of the key last-minute amendments was that heads and board members of NGOs will be under the supervision of the Central Auditing Agency not to the Ministry of Justice-affiliated Illicit Funds Apparatus.”
El-Sewedi said that they responded to the demand of the ministry of social solidarity that NGOs currently operating in Egypt be allowed a one-year grace period – instead of six months – to adjust its legal status.
The ministry said the number of NGOs registered in Egypt stands at 48,500, saying such large number requires time to adjust to new legal provisions.
Another last-minute amendment to the draft came in article 7 raised the minimum capital required to register an NGO to 50.000 EGP up from 10.000 EGP.
"This was a recommendation from the General Union of NGOs which said 50,000 EGP will weed out unserious requests for licensing," said El-Qasabi.
Last weekو 22 NGOs and 6 political parties issued a statement criticising the law saying it would “end civil society” by putting it under the control of government and security bodies.
The statement also attacked the law for putting in place penalties of jail sentences of up to 5 years in jail as well as hefty fines for violators.
MP Haitham El-Hariri, a member of 25/30 coalition issued a statement on his official Facebook page Tuesday asking President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi not to ratify the law.
El-Hariri has been vocal against the NGO law.