Human Rights Watch expressed deep concern that Egypt's parliament may swiftly pass a new law regulating nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt without soliciting the views of the NGO community itself.

Members of parliament should hear the voices of NGOs before voting on this legislation," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. "It is the NGOs themselves that can describe how the law will unreasonably restrict their activities. It will be a terribly disappointing setback for freedom of association if parliament rubber-stamps this law without listening to those who will be most affected by its passage."

The proposed new law generated vocal opposition from Egyptian NGOs and international human rights organizations when it first surfaced last year in draft form. That draft prohibited NGOs from carrying out "political activities," and any other activities that "threaten national unity or violate public order or moral codes." It gave the state the power to veto candidates for boards of directors; appoint government representatives to boards of directors; and dissolve groups for not accomplishing their purposes. It also required NGOs to obtain the government's approval before receiving funds from abroad. The draft law that was presented today to parliament was kept tightly under wraps, according to information that Human Rights Watch received, and NGOs were not invited to analyze and comment on its contents.

Four leading Egyptian human rights organizations issued a joint statement on May 14, 1999, expressing alarm about the imminent passage of the law: "When placed in the current political context, [the proposed law] is merely a reflection of the government's general intention to restrict further any form of independent association, be it political parties, unions, professional syndicates, or NGOs."

Human Rights Watch wrote to President Hosni Mubarak on June 5, 1998, and Minister of Social Affairs Mervat el-Tellawi on August 6, 1998, raising concerns about an earlier draft of the associations law. The organization did not receive a reply to either letter.