Parliament has recently passed the National Alliance for Civil Development Work (NACDW) law, which will enhance collaboration between NGOs in the alliance and the state and reflect positively on the services it presents to all Egyptian people.
The new law comes in the wake of two presidential initiatives launched in recent years to bolster the role of civil society in Egypt. The first, presented on 11 September 2021, was announced on the sidelines of the launch of the National Strategy for Human Rights when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi declared that 2022 would be the Year of Civil Society in Egypt.
“Civil society is a primary partner in promoting and safeguarding human rights in all aspects of political, economic, and social life,” he said, calling upon civil society organisations to continue working alongside state institutions to achieve sustainable development.
The second initiative was announced during the closing of the fourth World Youth Forum on 14 January 2022. On this occasion, the president urged the forum’s management and the organisations concerned to establish a dialogue platform to facilitate effective communication between the government and young people and local and international civil-society institutions.
These presidential initiatives were followed by a set of legal measures comprising four key elements. The first is enshrined in articles 75, 92, and 93 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution, which establish the right to form NGOs on a democratic foundation, to establish their legal personality upon notification to the state, and for these NGOs to exercise their activities freely.
The articles also state that the administrative authorities may not interfere in the NGOs’ affairs or dissolve them except by court ruling and ensures that all relevant rights and obligations are accorded to civil associations. The constitution also requires the state to adhere to international agreements and protocols on the freedom to establish NGOs.
The second element in the legal measures was the promulgation of Law 49/2019 that regulates the activities of NGOs. This law has played a significant role in enhancing the work of charitable associations and organisations, as it establishes legal principles that clarify the relationship between the state and NGOs.
While encouraging the establishment of local and foreign NGOs once they have notified the relevant authorities, the law also establishes a balance between the freedom of NGOs and their responsibility towards the security of the state. It gives them the right to acquire foreign funding on the condition they inform the state of this and specify the scope of their work in the field of development.
The third element is represented by Egypt’s Vision 2030 Strategy, launched in February 2016 as a comprehensive national agenda aimed at achieving sustainable development in all sectors of the country. The sixth axis of the vision is focused on governing the relationship between state institutions and civil society.
The NACDW law, the fourth element in the set of legal measures, was approved by parliament on 10 July. It grants the alliance legal personality, financial and administrative independence, and a headquarters in Cairo, with the right to open branches and offices in other governorates and abroad. The law establishes an organisational structure for the alliance through a board of trustees, a general assembly, and a technical office.
The law is complementary to and consistent with Article 75 of the constitution and the Civil Society Law of 2019. The president’s sponsorship of the NACDW guarantees its right to work without obstacles, and the new law establishes a legal framework and umbrella under which it can operate.
PROMOTION OF CIVIL SOCIETY
These legal measures that Egypt has adopted reflect its desire to promote civil society and to establish a new partnership with it in the development process.
They have simplified the process of establishing civil society associations and have strengthened their role in serving the public interest. The state recognises that civil society organisations are essential partners in achieving development plans.
The state’s interest in the civil sector is driven by both external and internal factors enforced by global challenges, such as the current slowdown in the global economy, declining growth rates, and rising inflation. These challenges have been exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, climate change, the water crisis, and other factors that have affected all countries around the world.
As a result of these challenges, the global growth rate declined from 3.4 per cent in 2022 to 2.8 per cent in 2023. Rises in oil, gas, and electricity prices have resulted in an increase in the prices of goods, services, and foodstuffs in most parts of the world.
On the domestic level, the government has been aiming to enhance the progress of civil society and its participation in the development process. The contribution of the civil sector to development is a key feature of all states and political systems, and Egypt is no exception.
In the past, Egyptian NGOs functioned under Law 84/2002, which placed limitations on their establishment and funding. They could also be dissolved as a result of an administrative decision by the relevant minister.
Moreover, before the legal measures outlined above the operation of NGOs in Egypt was often characterised by a lack of coordination and organisation. Many of them operated independently, without coordinating with the relevant government authorities or other NGOs. This led to overlaps in their areas of work, with different organisations working on similar issues without collaboration.
Many associations operating in rural areas were agents for larger associations in distributing charitable aid to widows, orphans, and the poor, for example. This resulted in a lack of clarity and transparency in the distribution of aid and an inefficient use of resources.
To address this challenge, the recent legal measures seek to strengthen the role of civil society organisations and transform them from being limited to providing charitable support to giving them a more comprehensive and developmental role with direct support from the president.
As a result of the state’s interest in involving civil society in development projects, the NACDW was first announced in March 2022 to organise the work of civil society institutions within a sustainable governance framework that would guarantee the efficient support of families and the neediest individuals in society.
The new alliance seeks to support the government in reducing the burden on citizens and eliminating double benefits, while also facilitating coordination and cooperation between civil-society organisations. It collects data, unifies the efforts of civil society institutions, and has developed a general policy for social work. It has also developed a training policy and prepared workers in various fields of social care.
The NACDW comprises 24 civil and developmental associations in Egypt and is one of the largest and most prominent civil society organisations in the country. Some 30,000 NGOs operate under it.
The largest single entity in the NACDW is the General Federation of Associations and Civil Institutions, a legally recognised organisation that is democratically run through the election of representatives from all federations at the national level. Its membership includes 11 central federations, 92 regional federations, and 27 federations of associations.
About 251,000 volunteers work in the NACDW, including 76,000 regular volunteers and 14,000 volunteer leaders, all of whom are young people.
The NACDW participates in development in various ways, and the services it provides are diverse and far-reaching. The number of people benefiting from these services has reached about 30 million, at a cost of LE12 billion.
The NACDW has also established a unified database in partnership with government agencies. This contains information on 37 million people who are most deserving of support and helps NGOs in directing the path and quality of assistance, saving effort and time and setting out future plans for the work of major NGOs in the way of integration and participation.
The NACDW has not only focused on supporting government hospitals but has also played a significant role in promoting health and wellbeing. This has included providing advanced medical services in all specialties and launching medical initiatives such as the Hepatitis C Initiative, the 100 Million Health Campaign, and the early detection of breast cancer.
It has focused on providing social and food services directly to those in need, including food baskets, housing, and financial aid. It spends around LE2.2 billion on pensions to about 350,000 families and provides support for various groups, including orphans, girls preparing for marriage, and the payment of the debts of indebted women.
The alliance has also been working to empower young people economically by providing funding for small and medium-sized enterprises in handicrafts and other domains. It had funded some 39,500 such projects and has also funded small farmers to plant 150,000 feddans with wheat through its Cultivate initiative as well as supporting dairy and livestock projects.
The NACDW is a key mechanism in the implementation of the National Human Rights Strategy launched in September 2021. It has undertaken various initiatives aimed at promoting the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of Egyptian citizens, reaching the largest possible number of people nationwide.
Since its establishment in March 2022, the NACDW has been able to provide efficient and competent services to about a third of Egypt’s population, reflecting a high level of coordination between its various components. By transforming its role from providing charitable services to sustainable ones, it is both contributing to the development of Egypt and improving the lives of the public.
*The writer is a researcher at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly