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Sunday, 26 May 2019

Towards a new NGO law for Egypt: Amendments and reviews

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 31 Jan 2019
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Recommended changes to the controversial NGO law, reports Gamal Essam El-Din, will be sent to a specialised cabinet committee for review, Talaat Abdel-Qawi, head of the General Union of NGOs, told the media.

“The committee, to be formed by Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali, will be responsible for drafting the amended version of the law which will then be submitted to the full cabinet,” said Abdel-Qawi.

Once it receives cabinet approval the draft will be referred to the State Council for legal and constitutional revisions. The revised version is then submitted to parliament’s social solidarity and legislative and constitutional affairs committees for discussion.

Abdel-Qawi said the recommended changes emerged from a series of meetings in which 1,300 civil society activists participated. They included representatives of local human rights organisations, youth academies, businessmen associations and foreign NGOs.

Changes to NGO Law 70/2017 are being made at the request of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi who, on 5 November, told the World Youth Forum that the law was “restrictive and reflects a sceptical view of NGO activities,” said Abdel-Qawi.

In order to ensure a more permissive environment for NGO activities articles imposing penalties, particularly prison sentences, needed a radical overhaul.

“Custodial sentences should be completely annulled,” said Abdel-Qawi.

The debate on changing the law reached a semi-consensus that the authority mandated to monitor NGOs, the National Council for Regulating the Performance of NGOs in Egypt, should be disbanded.

Participants in the dialogue also agreed articles on the local and foreign funding of NGOs should be reconsidered.

“It was agreed the ceiling on domestic donations be increased five-fold, and that NGOs should be allowed to receive foreign funding if they secure prior approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity,” said Abdel-Qawi. “Should the ministry not respond to a foreign funding request within 30 days — instead of the currently stipulated 60 — then approval should be considered as granted.”

Abdel-Qawi said there was also a consensus that “the activities of an NGO could be suspended only upon a judicial order and not by the administrative authority.”

All the participants asked for Article 13 to be amended.

“The article stipulates NGOs avoid political activities and bans them from conducting opinion polls,” said Abdel-Qawi.

“It needs to be changed to specify which political activities are prescribed, and to allow NGOs to conduct opinion polls if they first receive the approval of the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics [CAPMAS].”

Participants in the dialogue also requested that, once passed by parliament, the law’s executive regulations be drafted within two months.

 “One of the major reasons why President Al-Sisi asked for the current NGO law to be amended was that the government was unable to decide on its executive regulations,” said Abdel-Qawi.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 31 January, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Settling on a new NGO law

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