Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a move human rights analysts say is yet another step towards repression by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian parliament has passed a law that allows the government to regulate non-governmental organizations within the country.
The bill, which many human rights activists say is an infringement on both their basic rights and the rights of the Egyptian people, would restrict NGOs from operating without governmental consent and will carry high fines and heavy jail sentences for those that don’t comply.
“The passing of this NGO law will basically lead to the eradication of independent civil society in Egypt,” Mohamed Ahmed, a researcher on Egypt from Amnesty International, told The Media Line. Affecting some 40,000 different NGOs, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, this new law will replace the older one that was adopted some 14 years ago requiring organizations to register with the government.
Now, NGOs must apply for a permit and pay a fee of $20,000 simply in order to operate within Egypt. Those same NGOs, like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, must also obtain permission before conducting any type of fieldwork, meaning the government will always know what they are doing.
All of the organizations must limit their work to developmental and social work and cannot interfere with national security or public order. Cooperating with intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations (UN) without prior approval from the Egyptian government is considered against the law.
“It is the worst NGO law or draft that Amnesty International has seen since 2011,” Ahmed of Amnesty International said. “It’s definitely worse than the current repressive NGO law that was issued in the Mubarak era,” he said referring to long-time autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak who was forced to resign in 2011.
Noncompliance to the new law can result in jail terms of up to five years and fines of roughly $65,000, according to Ahmed. If the bill becomes a law, the government will create an NGO police force to regulate and oversee the various organizations and to ensure their activities are in compliance with the law.
“The entire thing is extremely harsh and draconian,” Moritz Schmoll, a PhD candidate at the department of government at the London School of Economics, told The Media Line.
Its quick creation and advancement through the legislative system has raised concerns among civil society groups as well as the international community. With a population of some 90 million people, the North African country which is bordered by Israel, has seen increasing governmental control since the Arab Spring, the anti-government demonstrations that began in Tunisia in late 2010 and afflicted most of the Arab world. In Egypt, the army overthrew President Mubarak and then elected Mohammad Morsi, who was overthrown by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Since the 2011 revolution, the country has gotten increasingly repressive. “The trend has been pretty negative for democracy and human freedoms for some time,” David Butter, a political, economic, and business analyst in the Middle East and North Africa and a fellow at Chatham House, the London-based think tank, told The Media Line.
“This law is generally perceived by NGOs as making life a lot more difficult for them and constraining the political space in Egypt.” From journalists and the press to, now, NGOs, the Egyptian government has effectively cracked down on anything it deems “opposition.”
Some analysts believe that passing the NGO bill is just another demonstration of a growing disregard for human rights. “I feel that repression against dissent has been so powerful and, in terms of democracy and human rights in Egypt, there isn’t much left,” Schmoll told The Media Line.
According to Schmoll, this bill is similar to the protest law, passed in 2013 after the coup, which made it illegal to protest without getting consent from the ministry of the interior and the authorities. “It was one of the tools, which repressed Egyptian society and imposed harsh penalties on anyone who tried to protest,” Schmoll said.
“I think the NGO law could be the second piece in the puzzle.” The Egyptian government cracked down on NGOs because, according to Schmoll, some officials in the government blame these organizations for the 2011 revolution by generating demands for democracy and social activism in Egypt.
These hardliners see both local and foreign NGOs as a threat. The bill, which was passed by the Egyptian parliament, has been sent to the State council and will land on President Sisi’s desk in the near future. Sisi has 30 days to reject or approve the bill, according to Ahmed.