12/03/2016, 15.45
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Egypt’s new law on NGOs is a blow to civil society and future generations

by Loula Lahham

Egypt’s parliament recently approved the bill that is now waiting for President al-Sisi’s signature. It imposes sentences of up to five years in prison and fines up to a US$ 650,000. According to critics, the law’s restrictions will have a devastating impact.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – A law adopted by the Egyptian parliament restricting NGO activities is causing fear and concerns among civil society groups. When implemented, the new legislation is expected to complicate what is an already difficult situation.

Parliament approved the new legislation by a wide margin last Tuesday (29 November). Now all it requires is the signature of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to be promulgated. The latter could refuse to sign and send it back to parliament for additional changes. Once signed and published in the Official Gazette, it will come into force on the same day.

An example of the new law’s restrictions is the ban on Egyptian NGOs carrying out surveys without prior (and special) authorisation from the State. The same goes for publishing survey results. For their part, foreign NGOs will have to pay more than US$ 20,000 to the Egyptian State in order to operate in the country.

The new law sets up a body with representatives from the State Security Services (Amn al-Dawla), the intelligence services, and the army, to regulate NGO foreign funding. The new body will mange the activities of foreign organisations already in the country or those planning to work in Egypt. None of this is actually new since it was part of the old regulations.

The new law also imposes up to five years in prison and fines of up to US$ 650,000 for any violator. Local and international NGOs are not allowed to engage in "political activity", or make any attempt against "national security or public order, morality or public health".

The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Kenyan Maina Kiai, said in a statement that the law would badly harm Egypt’s civil society for generations, and its provisions would violate international law and contradict Egypt’s own constitution.

“This bill proposes perhaps the worst restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Egypt since the 2011 uprisings,” Mr Kiai said. “It aims to destroy Egypt’s foundation for peaceful, civic engagement at its very roots. If it becomes law, it would devastate civil society not only in the short term, but possibly for generations to come”.

In a similar official statement, Human Rights Watch appealed to President al-Sisi to reject the law.

In Egypt itself, civil society groups have made it clear that they were not consulted during the drafting process.

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