Egyptian President Signs Law to Restrict Operations of Foreign-funded NGOs

May 31, 2017; Al Jazeera

Same song, different verse. Egypt joined a chorus of countries tightening restrictions on nonprofits operating in their countries with foreign funding support when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a law this week that would punish offenders with up to five years of imprisonment.

According to Al Jazeera, the law could affect more than 47,000 NGOs operating in Egypt.

The law strictly controls NGOs, including those in the realm of social and development work, and makes it difficult for charities to deliver services. It bans domestic and foreign groups from engaging in rights work or anything that can be said to harm national security, public order, public morals, or public health.

Egypt’s civil society groups have criticized the bill since the Egyptian parliament approved it in November 2016 and speculated whether it will ever come into effect. For months, the president held off on signing and enacting the law, which was never presented to the public for debate.

The 87-article law introduces a state regulatory committee—the National Authority for the Regulation of Non-Governmental Foreign Organizations—whose mandate will include monitoring any NGO that receives foreign funding. It must also be notified about local funding.

NPQ has reported widely on crackdowns on NGOs with foreign funding in countries like India, Turkey, and many others. But, although attacks on international funding are usually the beginning of a wider crackdown on civil society, according to 2015 research on the “Closing Space Challenge” from the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, the situation in Egypt has already begun to deteriorate, especially since the president ordered a state of emergency last month following terror attacks. (El-Sisi’s enactment of the state of emergency came six years after the Arab Spring, when protesters called for an end to a previous state of emergency that lasted for three decades under Hosni Mubarak and ended in 2012.)

Egypt’s human rights situation also differs from countries like Russia because the country receives foreign aid from the U.S., as Al Jazeera reported:

According to Sarah Yerkes, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Sisi’s attempt at controlling Egypt’s sociopolitical sphere at this time “was certainly influenced by what he perceives as a strengthened U.S.-Egyptian relationship.”

Last month, Sisi travelled to Washington for the first time since taking office in 2014. Relations between the two nations had soured amid Sisi’s crackdown on opponents and Egypt’s human rights abuses. Since the visit, Egypt has been negotiating billions of dollars in aid to help revive its economy.

“The Trump administration has made clear that they will not put any pressure on Sisi to protect the rights of his citizens,” Yerkes told Al Jazeera. “However, this [enactment] may be a miscalculation on Sisi’s part, as the primary critics of Sisi’s crackdown on human rights are Members of Congress who have the power to restrict US foreign aid to Egypt.”

Indeed, at an April 25th hearing in Washington, “a bipartisan panel of experts ripped Egypt as a floundering authoritarian state…and urged Congress to rethink its annual $1.5 billion aid package,” Al-Monitor reported.

Thus, the devastating development for Egyptians could become a political football in Washington as deliberations for the 2018 federal budget get underway.—Anna Berry