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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Egypt's Abdel Fattah El Sisi orders a review of controversial NGO law 

The 2017 law regulates how charities in Egypt can operate, but critics and human rights activists said the bill effectively bans many NGOs from operating

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah AL Sisi greets participants on the third day of the World Youth Forum. AP, HO
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah AL Sisi greets participants on the third day of the World Youth Forum. AP, HO

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has ordered a review of a controversial law restricting the work of non-governmental organisations.

The 2017 law regulates how charities in Egypt can operate, but critics and human rights activists said the bill effectively bans many NGOs from operating. At the time it was passed by parliament in November 2016, some members of the cabinet objected to the proposal saying it was too restrictive.

Mr El Sisi told a youth forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Sheikh that a new committee would "draft a comprehensive vision for amending the law regulating NGOs and civil society in Egypt".

On Monday, Mr El Sisi said he believed in the work of NGOs and said he wanted the law governing their work to be "balanced".

While critics have said that the law mainly targets rights groups, even apolitical charities have complained it restricts them at a time when subsidy cuts and tax increases have made it harder for Egyptians to make ends meet.

Charities have long played an important role in feeding, clothing and providing health care and education in a country where millions live on less than $2 (Dh7) a day.

However, lawmakers had been working for years on a bill to regulate how NGOs operate saying it was necessary to protect national security. Mr El Sisi’s government has often said that human rights groups took foreign funds to sow discord in Egypt in the wake of uprisings against the rule of long-term leader Hosni Mubarak.

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In 2016, the Ministry of Social Solidarity estimated that there were 47,312 NGOs registered to operate in the country.

The law requires NGOs to inform authorities before collecting and spending donations and donations exceeding 10,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh 2050) must be pre-approved.

If no approval is granted within 60 days, the request is automatically denied. Failure to inform authorities could result in jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to 1 million pounds (Dh 205,000).

The law also gives the government power to decide who can establish an NGO, and for what purpose.

It asks groups to stick to the “state’s development plan”, which some organisations said restricted the work they could do in areas the government did not consider a priority.

The law also banned domestic and foreign groups from engaging in political activities or anything that hurts national security, public order, public morals or public health - a means, said rights groups, to stifle dissent.

Part of the thinking behind the bill was linked to the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Mr El Sisi’s government has classified as a terrorist group. The group runs numerous affiliated charity and aid organisations