Leading members of the Egyptian parliament's Social Solidarity Committee said on Sunday that they reject most of the amendments introduced by the government to the new NGO law.
The committee's deputy chairwoman Rasha Ramadan described the amendments drafted in a memo by the social solidarity ministry as “provocative.”
The NGO law, drafted by parliament's social solidarity committee, was approved in a plenary session on 15 November and states that NGOs must receive approval from a yet-to-be-created body before receiving foreign funding.
However, the social solidarity ministry has rejected this stipulation, saying there is no need for an independent regulatory body with branches in all provincial governorates and that it would be overly costly and bureaucratic.
The ministry argued that if such a regulatory body must be created, it should be within the ministry itself.
Ramadan, however, said that the setting up of an independent regulatory body will help tighten control on foreign NGOs and foreign funding of local NGOs.
“The government's memo lacks a national security perspective and so it comes short of the benchmarks necessary to make sure that NGOs serve national development objectives and keep away from performing political activities,” said Ramadan.
The head of parliament's Social Solidarity Committee Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi has also told reporters that the creation of an independent NGO regulatory body will not be costly at all.
“The independent regulatory NGO body will be neither costly nor bureaucratic,” said Al-Qasabi, adding that “the objective of this body is to make sure that NGOs do not receive foreign funding that might be used in supporting terrorist activities.”
Al-Qasabi said that the Ministry of Social Solidarity has no authority to review the activities of NGOs operating in Egypt and make sure that they seek transparency in spending on their activities.
“The parliament-drafted NGO law primarily aims to secure national security goals and the creation of an independent regulatory body is necessary to achieve this goal,” said Al-Qasabi.
The committee's deputy chairman Mohamed Abu Hamed has told reporters that MPs' rejection of the ministry's drafted amendments forced minister of social solidarity Ghad Wali to propose that the suggested NGO regulatory body be affiliated with the ministry itself.
“But this proposal was also rejected because the main reason parliament proposed the creation of an independent NGO regulatory body was that the Ministry of Social Solidarity has greatly failed to regulate the activities of foreign NGOs or effectively supervise their performance and their sources of funding,” said Abu Hamed.
Abu Hamed explained that “the main foundation upon which parliament's drafted NGO law is based is that local and foreign NGOs do not compromise the national security of Egypt, and an independent regulatory body is necessary to keep this foundation intact.”
“If we accepted the government's amendment in this respect, this would mean that the law would be without a backbone and would collapse into pieces,” he added.
However, the government and the Central Agency for Organisation and Administration (CAOA) believe that the proposed NGO regulatory body will be highly costly and bureaucratic.
“At a time when the government is trying to lower the budget deficit, trim public spending and introduce administrative reform, it becomes illogical that a new bureaucratic body adding to budgetary burdens is created,” said a CAOA memo.
The government's memo on the parliament-drafted NGO law has also argued that the Ministry of Social Solidarity itself acts as regulatory body.
“It has much experience in reviewing and supervising the activities of foreign NGOs, and so there is no need at all for an independent regulatory body,” said the memo, adding that “the number of foreign NGOs operating in Egypt does not exceed 100 and that the number of those who obtain foreign funding stands at no more than 250.”
“These are small numbers which do not justify the creation of an independent NGO regulatory body,” said the memo.
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al told MPs that a final approval of the law would only be granted after the law is revised in legal and constitutional terms by the state council.
However, Abdel-Al indicated that the government still has the right to submit amendments while the law is being revised.
“Parliament has complete legislative powers and if the government has any amendments, it has the right to do this before the law is finally approved,” Abdel-Al said on 15 November.
He also insisted that parliament rejects any kind of local or foreign pressure and that its draft of the law is not restrictive.