The November 10 deadline for civil society organizations to reconcile their legal status with the existing NGO law will not be extended, Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Waly told the Reuters-affiliated news site Aswat Masriya on Thursday.
“After the deadline, we will deal with every NGO separately. If some of them are registered according to other laws, we will check whether they abide by these laws. If some of these NGOs’ activities violate other laws, we will notify them and deal with them according to the law,” she explained.
In July, the ministry declared it would take swift action against any NGO that did not comply with the provisions of Law 84/2002, and issued a deadline for such groups to adjust their legal status accordingly. The declaration was issued alongside proposed amendments to the law that were lambasted as repressive by various civil society organizations.
The amendments mandate that NGOs must register to gain official status, thus rendering them subject to the state’s administrative authority. However, critics point out that this contradicts Article 75 of the Constitution, which stipulates that civil organizations are to be established only through notification.
The bill also stipulates a new coordination committee to oversee NGOs, which effectively gives representatives of the Interior Ministry and the National Security Agency a seat at the table in every board meeting. The committee reserves broad rights to object to sources of funding, and can even veto nominations to an organization’s board of directors and reverse their decisions.
The draft legislation includes prohibitions against disturbing the public order and morals, taking part in political activity and undertaking field research without permission.
It specifically targets NGO funding sources, treating them as public funds in a major violation of international standards.
Many NGOs object to what they consider to be the nationalization of civil society, and say the bill is reminiscent of the 1964 law passed under former President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s administration, which essentially co-opted independent civic activity.
In a statement issued in July, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Egyptian authorities to draft new legislation that would safeguard the right to freedom of association.
Waly added in the interview that any NGOs that fail to register by the deadline would end up operating illegally for almost a year before the law is finally looked at and finalized by the Parliament, elections for which are scheduled to take place at the end of this year.
The state has consistently accused civil society organizations of illegally receiving foreign funding, and this concern seems to have been the driving force behind the new legislation.
“Foreign funding for NGOs is very important, and I’m not against it if it is conducted in a transparent way, with the entities giving these funds known. I should not prevent NGOs from accessing foreign funding, I should organize it,” Waly said.
But the law itself violates the Constitution, and “calling for adjusting our position according to an unconstitutional law is by itself an unconstitutional move,” rights lawyer and executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) Gamal Eid told Mada Masr.
“We know the minister is not in control of the ministry. We know that the ministry is run by state security,” Eid argued. “We will appeal against this law because it is unconstitutional, as most of the NGOs are not given licenses to operate due to security concerns. The latest amendments target human rights organizations in the first place.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated, “The November 10 deadline for civil society organizations to reconcile their legal status with the new NGO law will not be extended.” The story has now been corrected to reflect that the November 10 deadline refers to reconciling legal status with the existing legislation.