File photo: Egyptian protesters chant anti-military ruling slogans during a trial of employees of pro-democracy groups charged with using foreign funds to foment unrest in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012 (Photo: AP)
Egypt's justice ministry held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss a new draft law regulating the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Egypt.
The Cairo Institute for Human Right Studies (CIHRS), which attended the meeting, voiced its opposition to the proposed law, perceiving it as oppressive and claiming it attempts to "nationalise civil society and turn it into a governmental body."
The new draft law reportedly restricts NGO activities to development and social care only, and deems human rights groups, as well as law and constitutional awareness organisations, “political parties.”
Since 2002 when a controversial law regulating such organisations was passed, NGOs have challenged legal restrictions and sought to resist intervention by the government and the security apparatus.
"The proposed law is more restrictive than Law 84/2002, which is currently in force. The draft law is more repressive and hostile to civil society organisations than all laws and draft bills under the rule of Nasser, Mubarak and the supreme military council," read a statement issued by CIHRS Thursday.
According to the CIHRS statement, the new draft bill allows the government to strongly interfere in organisations' daily activities, as well as opening the door for security control over the funding of particular activities.
The statement claims that the draft bill bans foreign funding of NGOs, as well as forbidding them from conducting opinion polls, field research or from carrying out any development or humanitarian-oriented activities without first obtaining consent from security forces.
According to CIHRS, the new bill also reclassifies civil society organisations as bodies that carry out humanitarian or social work, which could in effect render organisations that do human rights work, as well as youth and culture groups, illegal.
If passed, the statement says, the law will lead some NGOs to operate from overseas as was the case under some totalitarian regimes in Libya, Syria and Zimbabwe.
"The draft law bespeaks attempts by President Morsi's government to hold the whip over NGOs, bypassing all international human rights accords and standards of rights to form NGOs and stand up for human rights."
CIHRS urged the government to annul the draft law and adopt an earlier bill drafted by 56 rights and civil society groups instead.
Anwar Esmat El-Sadat, member of the General Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations also raised serious objections to the law.
"The law pays no heed to the growing role of civil society organisations as central components of development in Egypt," he said .
The issue of foreign funding of NGOs in Egypt has become an issue of some controversy, with observers saying that the government uses the issue as a way to clamp down on civil society.
In December 2011, 17 offices belonging to several Egyptian and US non-governmental organisations suspected of "conspiring against the state" were raided by Egyptian security forces. Forty-three defendants were charged with receiving illegal funds, in a case that is still ongoing.
Ezz El-Din Farghaly of the Regional Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations, earlier contended that out of the 40,000 organisations in Egypt, roughly 150 receive foreign funding.
Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil is scheduled to meet Thursday with NGO representatives to look at the new draft bill.