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Monday, 15 July 2019

Egypt’s new NGOs Act receives preliminary House approval

LEGISLATION WATCH- New NGOs Act receives preliminary House approval: The House of Representatives has approved “in principle” the proposed NGOs Act that would replace the controversial 2017 legislation, reports Al Masry Al Youm. The new legislation, the full draft of which is available here courtesy of Youm7, would scrap prison sentences imposed on violators of the law. It would also allow up to 25% of organizations’ board of directors to be foreign residents, up from 10% under the old law. Foreign NGOs would still be allowed to operate in the country following approval by the relevant minister. Local organizations would also still able to open offices in other countries and receive donor money. Other new stipulations under the law include:

ًA central authority under the relevant ministry (which we take is the Social Solidarity Ministry) would be set up to supervise civil society groups. The authority would also be mandated with conducting studies and compiling statistics on Egyptian civil society. It would be financed through state’s coffers, as well as through service fees collected from the organizations under its auspices.

Civil society organizations would be able to set up companies and investment funds to support their activities after obtaining approval from the minister. Any profits made from those ventures would have to be directed to charity or other social cause.

Organizations that were previously placed on a terror list and/or convicted in terrorism-related crimes would no longer be allowed to operate, and all funds under their name would be channeled into a fund to support civil society organizations.

NGOs still can’t partake in politics: The original law forbids NGOs from participating in political activities whether through funding, endorsement, or otherwise. According to the leaked draft, this stipulation remains unchanged.

What’s next? The law is expected to receive a final vote at the House general assembly before being signed into law by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, who had directed his government late last year to amend the controversial law.

Why was the original law contentious? The NGO law passed in 2017 placed sharp restrictions on civil society and was roundly criticized by NGOs and the global press. The act has come under fire several times, including from Republican senators and the US Congress’ human rights commission. Domestic NGOs and international rights groups uniformly said it could lead to the shutdown of many groups, since taking up donations required advance approval from the state.

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