Proposed Egyptian law on nonprofits seen as echo of Mubarak era


McClatchy Foreign Staff

A draft Egyptian law regulating so-called nongovernmental organizations would limit the private, nonprofit groups in many of the same ways that the government of President Hosni Mubarak sought to control their operations – a sign, analysts here say, that President Mohammed Morsi fears that the groups could be used to oppose his government in the same way Mubarak supporters felt they’d helped topple his.

Under the proposed law, the government would have a say over how NGOs operate internally, how they’re funded and how much foreign organizations could be involved in elections, according to a draft of the law that McClatchy reviewed.

That Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, has endorsed the numerous barriers to how NGOs operate that would be enshrined in the new law is seen by many here as the latest assault on the political liberalization ushered in by the 2011 uprising that led to his election.

Since Mubarak fell, the most marked changes in Egyptian life are increased freedom of expression, assembly and association. But Morsi’s government has taken to intimidating the president’s opponents, charging politicians, pundits and even comedians with insulting him, and sending the police to violently confront anti-Morsi protesters.

Overall, the proposed law is only marginally different from the Mubarak-era regulation, which allowed Egyptian officials to raid 17 NGOs in 2011, including the U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, and charge 43 employees – including 16 Americans – with improper acts. Fifteen of those Americans fled and were tried in absentia. The 16th, Robert Becker, remained. The court is expected to rule on the case next Tuesday.

In some ways, the new law is more restrictive. Under Mubarak, American NGOs could work alongside Egyptian political parties, but the new law would outlaw foreign NGOs from participating in “partisan activities that are practiced by political parties and activities that infringe the national sovereignty.” The measure doesn’t explain what “partisan activities” entail.

The 13-page, 74-article proposed law requires that an NGO pay at least 50,000 Egyptian pounds – or about $7,142 – to register. It also says that no more than 25 percent of the organization’s staff members may be non-Egyptian. The NGO must submit a copy of its bylaws and membership to a newly created government steering committee for approval.

According to Article 10, NGOs should limit their work to “achieving the interests of the society,” vague wording that some say would allow the government wide authority to limit an NGO’s operations if it didn’t agree with its goals.

The proposed law makes a distinction between foreign and domestic NGOs, requiring foreign NGOs to submit all their funding sources to the steering committee.

Officials said the proposal reflected “the openness of Egypt,” though they declined to release it publicly. The draft will be released after the Shura Council, the only operating legislative body, votes on the law.

Several NGOs and human rights groups expressed concern that the proposed law is similar to the one in place during Mubarak’s years.

"There have been no major changes. It still gives the government the power to restrict their activities and cut off funding," Heba Morayef, the Egypt director of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, told the Reuters news agency. Morayef had seen a copy of the draft law.

McClatchy special correspondent Amina Ismail contributed to this report.

Email:; Twitter: @nancyayoussef

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

Pope Francis holding a tall, lit, white candle, enters St. Peter's Basilica to begin the Easter vigil service, at the Vatican, Saturday, April 19, 2014.

    Pope to baptize 10 people in Easter Vigil

    Pope Francis has presided over an Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica in which he will baptize 10 people.

Friends surround Melquin Merchan, an 18-year-old painter from Aracataca, as he paints a portrait of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in front of the house where the Nobel laureate was born in Aracataca, Colombia, Friday, April 18, 2014. Garcia Marquez died at the age of 87 in Mexico City on Thursday.

    Colombia hopes to share Garcia Marquez remains

    The final resting place for the ashes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez remains unclear. It could be Mexico where he lived for decades or his native Colombia. Perhaps even both.

FILE - In this file photo taken May 21, 2011, miners work at a legal mining concession in Huaypetue, Madre de Dios, Peru. Government efforts to halt illegal mining have mostly been futile. The miners already have been clashing with police while intermittently blocking traffic on the commercially vital interoceanic highway that links the Pacific coast with Brazil. But officials insist this time they’re serious about combatting the multi-billion-dollar illegal mining trade that accounts for about 20 percent of Peru’s gold exports.

    Deadline lapses in Peru for illegal gold miners

    The clock has run out for an estimated 40,000 illegal gold miners who had until Saturday to legalize their status in a region of southeastern Peru where fortune-seekers have ravaged rainforests and contaminated rivers. The government's vow to enforce a ban on illegal mining is raising fears of bloody confrontations.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category