Egypt parliament provisionally approves a new ‎NGO law; waits for cabinet draft

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 14 Nov 2016

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al told MPs that any ‎new law should go in line with the ‎constitution rather than serve foreign agendas‎; parliament postpones debate until cabinet presents its own draft

File Photo of Members of Egypt's Parliament in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 (AP)

Egypt's parliament provisionally approved on Monday a draft law aimed at ‎regulating the performance of NGOs.

The 89-article ‎law was drafted by the chairman of parliament's social ‎solidarity committee Abdel-Hadi El-Qasabi and ‎‎203 other MPs.

El-Qasabi said that MPs has decided not to wait ‎until a cabinet-drafted law on NGOs is submitted to ‎parliament.

"We decided to take the ‎initiative in drafting a law on NGOs and opening a ‎debate on it," said El-Qasabi, adding that the draft ‎law includes two chapters on foreign NGOs.‎

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al told MPs in a ‎plenary session on Monday that "NGOs can be a blessing or a curse."

"They can be a ‎blessing if their business is confined to raising the ‎awareness of citizens, spreading the culture of ‎democracy and contributing to development in ‎society," said Abdel-Al.

"They can be ‎a curse if they move to spread chaos, disrupt ‎national security and serve personal ‎interests."‎

Abdel-Al said that parliament should take its time in ‎debating the articles of the new law to guarantee ‎that they are in line with the constitution and ‎international conventions in a way that does not allow ‎NGOs to operate at the expense of national security.

"We will not accept any kind of ‎pressure from inside or outside [the country]," said Abdel-Al, ‎adding that "Egypt's parliament was democratically ‎elected and it stands firm against any pressure."‎

Abdel-Al said that Israel, which the West ‎likes to describe as the oasis of democracy in the ‎Middle East, has issued a new NGO law that has ‎imposed tough restrictions on foreign funding.

"The ‎prime minister of this country has said that he will not ‎allow any source of foreign funding that might harm ‎his country's national security," said Abdel-Al. ‎

El-Qasabi said NGOs and civil society organisations ‎sent parliament a letter where they denied ‎that NGOs are used as a cover for ‎obtaining corrupt money that can be used as a ‎weapon against ordinary Egyptian citizens and ‎disrupting the country's national security.

"We do not ‎accept [the suggestion] that corrupt people with foreign agendas and ‎with personal interests speak on our behalf," El-‎Qasabi cited the letter from NGOs as saying.‎

One of the most controversial articles in the ‎draft law stipulates that foreign NGOs ‎looking to operate in Egypt must get prior ‎approval from a regulatory body entitled the National ‎NGO Apparatus.

Any NGO found guilty of ‎receiving foreign funding without prior ‎approval will be dissolved.

"NGOs ‎should work towards the public interest and ‎their money should not be used in any political ‎activities such as funding parliamentary ‎candidates or political parties, inciting hatred and ‎disseminating sectarian tension or disrupting ‎national security," said El-Qasabi.‎

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi El-Agati told ‎speaker Abdel-Al that Minister of Social Solidarity ‎Ghada Wali has contacted him by phone to ask ‎that the debate on the draft NGO law be postponed. 

El-Agati said the government-drafted NGO law was ‎approved by the cabinet at the end of October and ‎referred to parliament on 2 November.

"Although ‎MPs have the right of legislation, I urge you to wait ‎until the government draft is also discussed," said ‎El-Agati.‎

In response, speaker Abdel-Al said that "parliament has ‎the right to discuss the two NGO drafts and the ‎government has the right to comment on ‎parliament's draft and ask for amendments."

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