President Mohamed Morsi at the conference for civil society organisations (Photo: Presidential facebook page)
Forty Egyptian NGOs on Tuesday issued withering criticisms of a new draft law regulating NGO activity, asserting that the bill sought to "cement full administrative control over all aspects of civic action" in Egypt.
The NGOs articulated their concerns in a joint statement entitled, "The Muslim Brotherhood lays the foundations for a new police state by exceeding Mubarak-era mechanisms to suppress civil society."
According to the statement, the bill – tabled earlier this week by the presidency – seeks to subject civic entities to executive oversight through a 'coordinating committee' endowed with powers to interfere in all matters related to foreign funding of local civil society groups and the licensing and operations of foreign NGOs working in Egypt.
"There is reason to believe that the [coordination] committee will include representatives from the security apparatus, as was explicitly stated in previous drafts," the statement asserts. "Membership in this committee will permit these bodies to control the activities of NGOs, especially by rejecting funding for certain activities."
"This raises the question of whether such governmental/security bodies, which might be implicated in human rights violations, would allow rights groups to receive funding or grant licenses to foreign NGOs to monitor human rights and document abuses for which these bodies may very well be primarily responsible," the statement added.
The joint declaration went on to argue that Article 6 of the draft law conflicted with Egypt's recently passed constitution, which states in Article 51 that organisations can only be established via 'notification.'
Article 6 of the draft law states that NGOs are to be legally recognised only after the expiry of a 30-day period from the time of notification – barring objections from the designated authorities.
"This signifies a blatant violation of Article 51 of the constitution and a clear bias towards restrictive permit policies, the cornerstone of all civil society laws from Nasser to Mubarak," the statement read.
The bill, the statement goes on, infringes on the right of civil society organisations to freely choose the legal framework that best suits their activities, as it requires all NGOs to be officially licensed in order to operate.
"This puts other types of entities – such as civil companies, law firms, and possibly even the many youth and social movements formed before and after the revolution – at risk of dissolution and confiscation of their assets and funds," according to the statement.
Other criticisms also included the fact that the newly proposed draft law makes it obligatory for NGOs to have an endowment of at least LE50,000 upon its establishment, while also stipulating how board elections must be conducted rather than leaving this up to member associations.
"The undersigned associations and organisations, which for many years faced attempts to stifle and control local civil society under the Mubarak regime, categorically reject the bill under consideration, as it displays a high level of hostility to the right to freedom of association as well as a tendency to impose increased administrative and security control on the work of civil society," the statement asserted.
The joint declaration urged Egyptian authorities to delay passage of the proposed law and review its contents so as to ensure its compliance with international standards protecting the right to free association.
Signatories to Tuesday's joint statement included the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Land Centre for Human Rights, the Habi Centre for Environmental Rights, the Hesham Mubarak Law Centre, the New Woman Foundation, and Nazra for Feminist Studies, among others.