In a letter to the President of Egypt, Human Rights Watch warns that a proposed law to regulate nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) grants excessive powers to the state.
"If the version of the draft law that we have obtained is enacted by parliament without major modifications, it will give the government an array of legal tools to interfere with virtually every aspect of the operations of NGOs, from the composition of boards of directors to solicitation of funds," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch. "The stakes are high. The right to freedom of association in Egypt is already substantially restricted."
The proposed law has not yet been officially made public, but the most recent leaked version has prompted an outcry of criticism from Egypt's human rights community.
The draft legislation includes a categorical prohibition of "any political activities regardless of their nature," and also gives the state the power to object to the proposed activities of any NGO. It criminalizes any associational activity that occurs outside the frame-work of legally registered organizations, and thus appears to ban informally organized citizens groups and committees. It permits the executive branch of government, through the Ministry of Social Affairs, to veto candidates for election to boards of directors and add state representatives to these boards. It requires government approval prior to soliciting contributions inside Egypt or abroad, sending funds abroad, or joining regional and international organizations and other bodies. Harsh penalties for infractions include two years in prison and/or fines of up to 10,000 Egyptian pounds, as well as temporary closure or dissolution of organizations found by courts to be in violation of the law.
Human Rights Watch urges the revision or cancellation of provisions of the draft law that constitute unreasonable or unnecessary interference with the right to freedom of association.