A new civil society draft law will “throttle” Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and “rob them of their independence”, said Human Rights Watch.
In a Monday statement, the international watchdog condemned the draft law and called for it to be discarded and replaced. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, warned that the draft law would “extinguish a crucial element of democracy in Egypt”.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity presented the draft legislation to Egyptian groups on 26 June. It has garnered criticism since then for restricting the activities of the already struggling civil society organisations in Egypt.
The draft gives the government veto power over all activities of civil society organisations, Human Rights Watch said. Under the new legislation, the government has the power to dissolve organisations without a court order; it can also refuse to licence new organisations under the pretext that their activities could “threaten national unity”.
“This draft law would require rights groups to seek permission to continue reporting on abuses from the very entities abusing those rights,” Stork said.
The draft law furthermore restricts the activities of international organisations within Egypt and their cooperation with domestic organisations, as well as imposing “crippling restrictions” on civil society organisations seeking foreign funding.
“This draft law leaves only the narrowest space for international groups to work in Egypt, and then only according to the whims of the government and security agencies,” Stork said.
The current law under which civil society organisations operate obliges them to seek government permission before domestically raising funds, which pushes organisations to seek foreign funding.
Violations of the draft law are punishable by at least one year’s imprisonment and/or a minimum of an EGP 100,000 fine.
Human Rights Watch stressed that civil society organisations in Egypt have long fought for their independence in the face of “intense government pressure and repressive laws”. It added that if it passes, the draft civil society law would “sound the death knell” for the organisations’ independence.
Twenty-nine NGOs rejected the draft in a joint statement on Wednesday, describing it as a “blatant violation of the constitution and Egypt’s international obligations”.