Cairo (AFP) – Egypt’s parliament on Tuesday approved a contentious bill on the regulation of non-governmental organisations and sent it to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to sign into law.
Lawmakers gave the text final approval after making some amendments, the parliament’s website said.
The amendments were “superficial” and “do not affect the spirit of the law, which is to nationalise NGO work and restrict civil society,” said representative Khaled Youssef, who voted against the bill.
Critics fear the law will enable authorities to further limit the operations of NGOs already in their sights as part of a crackdown on dissent since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Under the new law, NGOs would be prohibited from activities including carrying out surveys or publishing them unless they are granted government permits.
It would require the creation of a “national authority” including army and intelligence representatives who would oversee the foreign funding of NGOs and the activities of foreign NGOs.
Those who violate the law could imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to one million Egyptian pounds ($55,564, 52,315 euros), parliamentarians have told AFP.
“If this law passes, it would be a farce to say that Egypt allows ‘non-governmental’ organisations, since all would be subject to the security agencies’ control,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
The organisation urged Sisi to decline to sign it into law, and recommended the government puts forth another bill with input from independent NGOs.
– ‘Government puppet’ –
If it is signed into law, “it would devastate the country’s civil society for generations to come and turn it into a government puppet,” UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai said in comments published last week.
The proposed law appears to be “deliberately drafted to curtail civil society’s ability to operate, and to stifle their ability to freely express themselves,” said Kiai.
There are more than 47,000 Egyptian NGOs in the North African country, and more than 100 foreign ones, according to the government.
“All of this is because there is a small number of organisations that play a suspicious role, and that do receive financing linked with an unclear agenda that could really hide malicious objectives against the Egyptian state,” said Ahmed al-Tantawi, a member of the “25-30” group of lawmakers who call themselves the opposition.
Officials and security services have aired suspicions since the January 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak that civil society groups were plotting against Egypt at a time of heightened tensions with western countries.
Rights groups have repeatedly accused Sisi’s government of violations, including forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions.
Egyptian and foreign NGOs operating in the country are governed by a strict law which allows the government to supervise their activities and finances.
In September a court froze the assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three NGOs for receiving foreign funds in a case dating from 2011.