File Photo: NGO employees standing a cage during their trial in Cairo in 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt's Ministry of Solidarity extended on Sunday a deadline for NGOs to register their existence with the ministry or else face legal investigation, a statement by the National Human Rights Council read.
The ultimatum, announced in July in state-owned daily Al-Ahram, urged “unlicensed” civil society “entities” to adjust their legal status in accordance with the law within 45 days. Failure to comply would leave organisations subject to investigation and possibly penalties including but not limited to dissolution.
National Human Rights Council member Hafez Abu Saada told Ahram Online the extension moves the deadline forward another 45 days, starting on 2 September.
He described the extension as "unsuitable", as it works within the current law -- law 84 of 2002 – which both the government and civil society organisations have previously agreed to be "invalid” because it gives broad power and authority to government bodies to interfere in the work of civil society organisations.
Abu Saada said that during that following the extension decision, the human rights council issued a statement calling on President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who in the absence of a sitting parliament holds legislative and executive powers, to reverse the decision.
The statement also called on El-Sisi to pass a draft law, currently being reviewed by the cabinet, which civil society organisations drafted along with the government to replace law 84.
According to Abu Saada, the draft law was approved by both the government and by NGOs during Ahmed El-Borai's term as minister of social solidarity in Hazem El-Beblawi's government less than a year ago.
The draft law reinforces the independence of civil society organisations, allowing government supervision only.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity, Ministry of International Cooperation and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with 17 civil society representatives, participated in the drafting of the new law.
Law 84, promulgated during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak, specifies penalties of up to one year in prison for those responsible for NGOs that failed to register with the government, but was never fully implemented, and most human rights organisations continued to work largely outside government control.
During a crackdown on unregistered organisations in December 2011, 43 staffers at foreign NGOs were referred to trial. They were sentenced in June 2013 to between one and five years in prison for working for unregistered NGOs in Egypt.
International rights group Human Rights Watch operated a Cairo office for years without a legal licence, but closed its branch earlier this year.