Clearing Misconceptions about the Presidency’s Draft NGO Law

Clearing Misconceptions about the Presidency’s Draft NGO Law

 1. The bill seeks to subject civic entities to strict executive oversight under what is termed the “Coordinating Committee,” which is given broad powers to adjudicate in all matters related to foreign funding for national organizations and the licensing and operation of foreign NGOs in Egypt.

This is completely untrue; the main objective of forming the Coordinating Committee is to consolidate all government entities that International NGOs deal with into one, to facilitate all administration and registration matters and to limit any bureaucratic complications.

The law puts all the guarantees for transparency and doesn’t give the committee any control over organizations. The committee must provide a legally accepted reason for any decision regarding registration or funding requested by the NGOs, thus limiting any ability of the committee to interfere or impose restrictions on the NGOs for political or authoritarian causes.

Moreover, the committee has no authority to stop illegal activities or funding or dissolve the NGO without court order.

The legislation also created a clear reference point with regards to denying registration or objecting to activities or funding, i.e. the constitution and legal framework of Egypt.

Once NGOs are registered or had the general approval to receive funds (in case of the local NGOs receiving foreign funding), they operate freely and receive funding provided they notify the coordination committee without requiring or waiting for any other approval.

As the Venice Commission report states: “It is an important guarantee that if the association fails to respond, the case should be brought before the competent court, and the administrative authority cannot refuse the registration on its own. It is, however, of the utmost importance that the courts act in an independent and impartial manner In general, it is an important guarantee that all decisions of the authorities should provide reasons, and there is the possibility, or even the necessity of judicial review”.

2. In previous drafts of the bill, security bodies had been deliberately included among the official members of this committee, but due to the widespread criticism this provoked, the most recent draft does not specify the composition of the committee – rather, it notes only that it shall be formed by a decree from the prime minister. There is reason to believe ­ that the committee will include representatives from the security apparatus, as was explicitly stated in the previous drafts.

Membership on this committee will permit these bodies to control the activities of NGOs, particularly by rejecting funding for certain activities. This raises the question of whether such governmental/security bodies, which might be implicated in human rights violations, would allow rights groups to receive funding or grant licenses to foreign NGOs to monitor human rights and document abuses for which these bodies may very well be primarily responsible.

With regards to the composition of the Coordination Committee, the relevant minister appoints its members. The legislation requires half the members of the Coordination Committee to be members of civil society chosen by an elected body (the National Federation for Civil Society).

Moreover, the committee must invite the NGO to attend the session related to its request.

And regardless of the composition of the committee, the law limits the control of any of its members over the NGOs by putting a condition that the decisions of the committee must be with legally accepted reasons (it must clearly violate the law).

For additional guarantees, the activities that are considered “illegal” are listed in the law (Articles 10 and 59).

3. The new bill sets the stage for the security apparatus to overpower human rights organizations. The security apparatus will be given the legal rights to gradually suppress the work of human rights organizations by blocking their sources of funding.

This is not true; the law sets a clear process which ensures transparency and clarity of all processes and decisions.

On contrary, the law widens the concept of civil work, and Article 10 lists human rights and political awareness as types of civil work.

4. The bill limits the right of associations to develop the financial resources necessary to pursue their activities by making their right to collect donations conditional upon completion of a process of notification and the subsequent approval of the administrative authorities. Similarly, it would require organizations to notify the Coordinating Committee and to receive its official approval before receiving foreign funding.

This interpretation is incorrect. On the contrary; the bill allows freely collecting donations from Egyptians inside and outside Egypt and from foreign residents in Egypt. It requires only “notification” in case of foreign donations.

In this respect, the Venice Commission states: “The problem to be solved is – and Egypt tries to comply with international requirements in the fight against terrorism – to avoid any possibility of laundering terrorist money in form of foreign funding for NGOs. This is a necessary, reasonable, and acceptable justification for the stricter control of funding from foreign donators.”

It also adds: “Obviously, the strict regulation and control of all financial maneuvers puts a burden on the every-day operation of the NGOs but all in all there is a delicate balance between the requirements of financial transparency and the appropriate functioning of the civil associations. This has to be appreciated compared to the previous drafts that wanted to consider the funds of the NGOs as public funds allowing direct state control over the financial activities of these organizations”.

5. Paradoxically, Article 63 stipulates that organizations must obtain a permit to access foreign funding thus contradicting the stipulations set out in Article 13.

The law differentiates between donations which require only notification and funding specific activities and projects which require a general approval to receive fund from certain foreign entity, then only notification for subsequent funding.

6. In violation of Article 51 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that associations shall be formed by notification, the bill provides that associations will only obtain legal personhood upon receipt of a permit. Article 6 of the draft law clearly states that organizations become legally recognized only after the lapse of a 30 day period from the time of notification without any objections from the designated authorities. Practically speaking, this signifies a blatant violation of Article 51 of the constitution and a clear bias towards restrictive permit policies, the cornerstone of all civil society laws from Nasser to Mubarak.

The association acquires the legal personhood upon notification while the 30 days period is the maximum period that the administrative body can object (for a legally accepted reason) to an illegal activity (listed clearly in Article 10).

One of the advantages of this law is that it states clear and sharp timings for any objections or decisions regarding the NGOs so as not to misuse these objections to delay or restrict the activities of the NGOs.

On this provision, the Venice Commission stated: “The procedure appears reasonable both in terms of timing and in substance”.

It added: “The legal personality of the association during the process of establishment is acquired simply by notification accompanied by the necessary documents. The administrative authority gives the association a certificate with its registration number. Registration of the association may not be refused in any regard, except in a few cases that are determined by the Law. It is the guarantee to avoid a lengthy registration procedure that where there is no objection from the administrative authority, the association is considered automatically registered thirty days after the submission of the notification. This is a very positive provision which deserves to be commended.”

7. The bill sets unjustified and arbitrary restrictions on the establishment of associations, such as requiring at least ten founding members for an association to be formed. This contradicts international standards for freedom of association, which require only two members. Egypt should follow the example of Tunisia and Morocco on this point, as these two Arab countries have already brought their NGO laws into compliance with this particular international standard.

This is misleading. Article 1 in Chapter one states “Civil Work Organizations are all non-governmental bodies established in a voluntary manner by a group of physical or legal persons or both having legal personality practicing civil activities with the objective to achieve human and developmental objectives within the values and principles of respect, tolerance, peaceful willingness and respecting diversity and differences”, then it lists many forms of what is considered “civil work organizations” one of these forms is the one formed by 10 or more founders.

“The variety of the different forms of associations is a natural and wide-spread phenomenon, and in this respect the regulation is in conformity with the international standards.” (quoted from Venice Commission report on the bill).

8. Several provisions in the bill impose other elements of excessive administrative oversight, including by confiscating the right of founders and members of associations to draft their own charters.

This is not true. The statement didn’t specify where these claims are stated in the bill.