Several society dialogue sessions were held during the past few weeks to continue discussions over the amendment of the existing non-governmental organisation (NGOs) Law.
The first session started on 22 December in the presence of the Minister of Social Solidarity, Ghada Wali, and in cooperation with Misr El-Kheir Foundation, the Coalition of NGOs and total of 200 members from NGOs participated from governorates of Menoufiya, Qaliubiya, Giza, and Cairo.
It came one month after President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ordered the government to form a committee to come up with a comprehensive vision to amend the existing law and prepare a report with the suggested amendments to present to parliament after holding community dialogues.
The second round was held in Alexandria, drawing representatives from as many as 150 NGOs affiliated with the governorates of Beheira, Gharbia, Kafr Al-Sheikh, Marsa Matrouh, Dakahlia, and Damietta. In this meeting, participants recommended that 20% of NGO boards should be composed of young members, 30% of which should be women, which comes as one of the best recommendations.
The sixth round was organised on 4 January by the National Academy for Youth Training and Rehabilitation, in cooperation with the ministry of social solidarity, with the attendance of 154 youth and a number of public figures, youth parties, and ministry officials.
Generally, during the six rounds, the attendees came with a number of recommendations to be submitted to parliament, which focused on reconsidering the disputed articles in order to come up with a set of recommendations. Topics that monopolised the talks included reviewing the agreement of the articles of the current law of the NGOs, the constitution, international conventions signed by Egypt, and how Egypt deals with foreign funding and fundraising.
They also discussed articles related to the establishment, exemptions, granting exceptional privileges, punishments and re-formulating the relationship of the state with NGOs to ensure the necessary balance between the freedom of responsible civil action and the requirements of national security.
The head of the Coalition of NGOs, Talaat Abdel Qawi, said in press statements that the committee is reviewing all the existing articles and other recommended articles.
“First, we aim to develop a comprehensive law that aligns with article 75 of the constitution, which states that the NGO shall acquire legal entity upon notification, and shall have the right to practice their activities freely without a1dministrative interference and according to article 92, which states that Egyptian laws must be in line with international conventions,” said Abdel Qawi.
He continued that: “Second, we call for a law to help the beginning of civil work to implement its role in offering benefits and opportunities for associations.”
Abdel Qawi noted that the number of NGOs in the various governorates of Egypt reached 50,000 associations present in all cities and villages, adding that the civil society is strong and serious with the citizens, and that these organisations dispense financial support to some families in the form of housing such as providing roofs of houses in some villages in Upper Egypt, water and sanitation, and there are other aids in kind of medical treatment for patients, as well as clothing, helping brides from the neediest families, as well as offering some tuition for students who suffer from difficult economic conditions, and supplying basic goods for the needy throughout the year.
He also said that the civil society participates in 30% of the total health services for the needy and implementing women empowerment workshops, of all which do not have a media appearance and offer great services to citizens.
The official explained that issues of publicity and penalties in the law were well-reviewed during the rounds, explaining that the promulgation of NGOs was linked to the submission of a notification to the concerned authorities in accordance with the constitution.
“The establishment of an NGO is suggested only through notification without any additional procedures in order to coincide with Article 75 of the constitution and meet a basic demand of the NGO community and so state authorities can investigate for up to 30 days pending the license issuing,” he said.
Abdel Qawi asserted that any NGO is entitled to receive funding from abroad under the supervision of the ministry of solidarity, adding that the rounds recommended that the high licensing fees — EGP 10,000 — required for setting up an NGO should be reconsidered, and for foreign NGOs, it is recommended that the licensing fees be reduced from EGP 300,000 to100, 000.
The sessions came while the Cairo Criminal Court in Egypt acquitted all 43 defendants accused in the ‘foreign funding’ reopened case of 2011.
The case involved 43 NGO staff of Egyptian nationals and 16 foreigners. The acquittal was cautiously praised and stirred questions over the path of civil society organisations.
Daily News Egypt presents a number of significant recommendations which resulted from the rounds and are expected to be discussed for the amendments:
Inserting a brief presentation for the law at the beginning of the draft to clarify its role to empower and support civil society and how it will be a partner and complementary member for the development system of Egyptian society with the public and private sectors.
Ensuring the availability of all transactions and financial statements on the official website of the association, in order to give control to all concerned parties and not only to the state.
Each NGO should clarify its strategy, including its orientation, objectives, vision and mission, special services, and determine the geographical scope of the performance of its services.
Conducting a series of sessions and workshops to raise awareness about the articles of the law following its approval and issuance of bylaws.
Reviewing the anti-freedom penalties in dealing with administrative violations, without prejudice to the provisions of the Egyptian penal code.
The ministry of social solidarity should make a concessionary arrangement for NGOs in terms of performance efficiency and provide the best benefits to the target audience and publish them to citizens.
Activating the role of the appeals committee in the competent administrative authority to view the complaints submitted by various NGOs in order to determine them within a maximum period of 15 days after confirmation of receipt.
Cancelling fees for the establishment of foreign NGOs operating in Egypt and facilitating procedures for the licensing of receiving funds.
Exemption of all activities of institutions and NGOs from various types of imposed taxes, as these entities are non-profit organisations engaged in development activities to bring about a general renaissance in the country.
Increasing the resources of NGOs to allow the work of projects, including, for example, the establishment of companies to serve their activities.
Notifying the NGO extension activities and opening offices in another governorate through the administrative body and not to the competent minister.
Determining the cases of dissolution of the NGO, and it must be by a judicial decision and the same is applicable when it comes to stopping said activity.
Regarding the documents accompanying the establishment, referring to the list of requirements and documents specified by Law No 84 of 2002.
In the case of foreign funding, the maximum approval is 30 days. In the event of non-response, approval shall be given to the subsequent monitoring of the funding by the ministry of solidarity. If refused, with a justified decision, the interested party may appeal the matter.
To determine the NGO work, a formal survey shall be conducted by its owners and be approved by the competent authority, and the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.
About the current NGO law
The existing law was drafted by the head of the parliament’s social solidarity committee, Abdel Hady Al-Kasby, and was ratified by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in May 2017, to replace Law 84 of 2002, six months after its approval in parliament.
The law, consisting of 89 articles, was approved, while another draft was sent from the cabinet to the parliament in September, but was not discussed.
The current law gives the government the power to decide on who can establish an NGO and its purpose, obliges groups to stick to the state’s development plans, therefore severely restricting the work they accomplish in the areas which the government does not consider a priority. The law also bans domestic and foreign groups from engaging in political activities, or anything that the government considers a harm to national security, public order, or public morals.
Even though the law has been ratified a year ago, the cabinet did not issue a bylaw till our present day. Recently, the president responded to calls to amend the controversial law, and ordered the formation of a committee.