The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) has decided to register under a highly disputed NGO law, whilst maintaining the fight to replace it with a new “democratic” law.
The NGO, currently registered as a “limited liability company”, issued a statement Sunday announcing it will apply for registration under what it described as a “flawed” NGO law.
“The Board of Trustees of EIPR announced that – though it has long criticised the ambiguities and restrictions of the flawed 2002 NGO law – it has decided to respond to the government’s ultimatum by applying for registration under it,” the statement read.
EIPR pledged in the statement to continue to work on replacing the law with one that “regulates the work of civil society associations in Egypt in a democratic, clear and transparent manner”.
Under Law 84/2002, NGOs cannot receive foreign funding without permission from the Minister of Social Solidarity, and the government has the authority to dissolve NGOs without a court order.
EIPR added in the statement that the law contravenes the constitution, which “upholds the right of all citizens to form and operate associations after simply notifying the relevant authorities”. It added that it “threatens NGO staff with custodial sentences for administrative errors”.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity initially issued an ultimatum to NGOs that ended on 25 September to register under the law, and then extended the deadline to 10 November, due to complaints from NGOs.
The government did not act on the end of the deadline, but some NGOs took precautionary decisions. The Culture Resource (Al-Mawred al-Thaqafy), a prominent regional NGO in the arts and culture field, froze all of its activities in Egypt two days before the ministry’s deadline, without providing specific reasons. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) decided to move its regional and international programmes outside of Egypt “in light of the ongoing threats to human rights organizations”, according to the NGO’s statement on 9 December.
Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali said on 11 November that decisions regarding registration would be taken on a case by case basis, depending on the nature of the group’s activity and its registration status. This would be followed by approaching the organisations, in order to register them under the current NGO law.
In an 18 November press release, a group of ten NGOs called on the Ministry of Social Solidarity “to engage in a serious, transparent dialogue on the role of civil society organizations in Egypt and the government’s fears and apprehensions about these groups”.
The signatories, among them EIPR, CIHRS and other prominent NGOs, expressed their willingness to initiate a dialogue with the government, in an effort to resolve “the crisis of freedom of association in Egypt”.
In July 2013, the Ministry of Social Solidarity under then minister Ahmed El-Borai formed a committee which NGOs participated in to form a draft law. El-Borai then presented it before The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The Ministry invited NGOs again on 26 June to participate in a “societal discussion” on a new draft law for the NGOs. In a joint statement, 29 NGOs described the draft law as “repressive”, adding that it “aims to strangle public sphere”.
Mohamed Zare’, head of the Egypt programme at CIHRS, told Daily News Egypt that EIPR has every right to choose the legal framework it wants to work within, but CIHRS won’t register under an “undemocratic law”.
He added that CIHRS is registered as a civil company, noting that mandatory registration does not exist in democratic countries and that the law that regulates NGOs should offer advantages and regulations, rather than manipulate the freedom of regulation.
Zare’ added that CIHRS may register some of its activities under an NGO law “if there is a democratic law”.