From 2002 until 2017, civil society in Egypt was governed by the provisions of the Law on Associations and Community Foundations (Law 84 of 2002) and the Implementing Regulation for Law 84 of 2002 (Ministry of Social Affairs [Now Ministry of Social Solidarity] Decree 178 of 2002) .Despite the highly restrictive nature of these laws, the civil society sector expanded during this time and was relatively large and vibrant when the 2011 Revolution began. In effect, the restrictive legal framework in Egypt did not serve to ban civil society outright but rather gave enormous discretionary powers to the Ministry of Social Solidarity and other government agencies. In practice, this authority was brought to bear against organizations and individuals that crossed the government’s ‘red lines’ in pushing for social reform and political liberalization.As a result, many organizations involved in research and advocacy around human rights declined to register as associations under Law 84, forming instead as civil companies or law firms.In early 2011, mass protests across Egypt led to President Hosni Mubarak’s removal from power. Since 2011, and after the people mass protests that led to Mubarak removal from power, the country has undergone progressive and quick changes in governing authority, and uncertainty in the legal framework. After the 2011 Revolution, many parties sought to replace Law 84: Civil society aimed to replace it with a more enabling law, while different government ministries and parliamentary committees proposed a series of draft laws imposing new restrictive measures – targeting in particular CSO funding and operations. The most draconian of these draft laws emerged in the fall of 2016. Unlike previous draft laws, the Law on Associations and Other Foundations Working in the Field of Civil Work had not been shared with the public nor with any independent civil society organizations prior to its publication in a newspaper in mid-November, when Parliament first approved the law in a rushed session. It was subsequently approved by Parliament in a final vote on November 29 2016.Local and international CSOs, governments, and UN entities roundly condemned the restrictive draft law and called on President el-Sisi to refrain from signing it.
Law 70 of 2017 is a law regulating Work of Associations and Other Institutions Working in the field of Civil Work in Egypt, issued by President Abdel-Fattah ElSisi on Monday, May 24, 2017. Under this law:
- All NGOs are prohibited from conducting activities that “harm national security, public order, public morality, or public health”, vague terms that can be abused to constrain legitimate activity.
- A National Authority for the Regulation of Foreign Non-governmental Organizations is created and includes representatives of Egypt’s top national security bodies – the General Intelligence Directorate and the Defense and Interior Ministries – as well as representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Central Bank of Egypt.
- The government agencies assembled in this new authority – including security bodies – are given the power to interfere in every aspect of NGOs’ existence, administration and activities.
- The new authority should oversee the work of NGOs, including any funding or cooperation between Egyptian associations and any foreign entity. The law prohibits any Egyptian government body from making agreements with NGOs without the authority’s approval.
- Associations must obtain permission from the authority 30 days in advance to receive donations from Egyptian entities or individuals inside Egypt and must inform the Social Solidarity Ministry upon the receipt of such funds.
- Associations may receive funding or grants from foreign entities inside Egypt or Egyptian or foreign entities outside Egypt as long as the authority is notified within 30 days of receipt.
- The newly formed authority then has the right to reject the funding within a 60-day period following its notification. Associations may not use these funds within the 60-day review period.
- The government is authorized to monitor and challenge NGOs’ day-to-day activities, from choices for their leadership to the schedule for internal meetings.Even an administrative move such as relocating headquarters to another building without informing the authorities is punishable under the law.
- The Egyptian government has the right to cancel a foreign NGO’s license at any time if the NGO’s work is deemed to be harming national security or public safety or disturbing public order, or per the principle of reciprocity – if a foreign government shuts down an Egyptian NGO, for example.
While the function of NGOs is essential amid the current socio-economic crisis in Egypt and the increased number of human rights violations and limitation to the freedom of expression, this law turns it impossible for organizations to work independently and to respond to the Egyptian society needs, especially those of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups of citizens and refugees in the Egyptian territories, such as social services, education, and poverty alleviation, as well as legal, medical, or psychological support to survivors of torture, abuse, and gender-based violence.This law is a death sentence for civil society in Egypt and contravenes Egypt’s commitment to international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that no restrictions may be placed on the right to free association other than those “which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others, and the Constitution of Egypt, notably its Articles 52 (on the prohibition of torture in all forms and types), 73 (on freedom of assembly) and 93 (on the binding character of international human rights law).