Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Blog

By Raouia Briki

Summer 2013 Intern

On June 7, the Middle East Institute held a panel entitled: “Egypt’s Draft NGO Law: Impact & Implications” featuring Sarah Margon, Deputy Washington Director of Human Rights Watch and Nancy Okail, Director of the Middle East Program at Freedom House. The panelists discussed the draft law’s implications on the free functioning of civil society, human rights and democracy in Egypt.

Sarah Margon highlighted the restrictive nature of the law and described it as “antithetical to the ideals of the revolution.” Margon explained that the draft calls for the formation of a coordination committee that would have the authority to approve requests of foreign funding and would require organizations to submit an annual report regarding all decisions made within the organization. This committee would have the ability to reject decisions made by the internal governing body of the organization. Margon added that such strict control of NGOs by the government will not only restrict their freedom to operate but it will also create unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles.

In her remarks, Nancy Okail, who was recently sentenced in absentia to 5 years in prison during the Egyptian government’s latest NGO crackdown, discussed further implications of the draft law. She explained that the draft will mainly affect NGOs that focus on economic development, human rights, and democracy. Okail explained that when the first campaign against foreign funding began under Minister Fayza Abu Nagga, the argument was that these NGOs are “elitist,”  focusing mainly on human rights and democracy issues while the economy is a more pressing matter. Okail explained that in fact, the role of NGOs is crucial to help the government determine the needs of people and address them.

The event provided an opportunity for people with different views on the subject to interact and explain their views and concerns. In addition to representatives from the US government and concerned NGOs, a representative of the Egyptian government from the audience was given the chance to provide the government’s position. He explained that the verdict was issued by a court of law and that the lawsuit was raised under a different government based on a law that he claims the government is now trying to change. He noted that the separation between Morsi’s government and the judiciary prove that the decision is not politicized like some people claim. He also noted that the NGO law is only a draft that is being discussed among stakeholders. Ms. Okail responded that the draft would likely be signed into law before Egyptian people are made aware of its existence.

Although the initiative of reviewing laws to regulate foreign funding sounded at the beginning like a brave initiative to maintain sovereignty and rule of law from the Egyptian government, the case seems to have taken another dimension especially that funds from other NGOs like Qatari and Saudi NGOs do not seem to be questioned

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