Wishing you a blessed Eid & Egypt’s new NGO Law and CAWU

Sent On: 
Sun, 2017-06-25
Newsletter Number: 

First of all we would like to use this opportunity to wish all our Muslim friends a blessed Eid al-Fitr.


The new Egyptian NGO law was widely criticized in different media and as a consequence we received questions about the status of the Center for Arab-West Understanding (CAWU) in relation to the new law.


CAWU was registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) under Egyptian law in 2007. Its mission is to promote dialogue among people of different convictions, Muslims and Christians, both within Egypt and abroad. Its primary activity has been providing internships for Egyptian and non-Egyptian interns. There are no financial transactions involved: interns do not pay CAWU for its services and neither does CAWU pay interns. So far so good since the Ministry of Social Solidarity is, in particular, focused on the sources of funding.



But work has not been easy. CAWU’s operations have been limited, funded by its members but as of yet unable to obtain foreign funding, which must proceed through the Ministry of Social Solidarity. In 2009, CAWU applied for permission to obtain funding through the German NGO ZIVIC. The bureaucratic process was eventually approved, but only after the funding deadline for the project expired. The cumbersome process discouraged CAWU from seeking foreign funding until recently.


CAWU’s experience is not unique and different NGOs have responded in different ways to the complications experienced. In the years prior to the Egyptian revolution, some NGOs tried to bypass the process of formal registration for their non-governmental entity and proceeded simply as a private company which is in violation of the law since companies are not supposed to receive donations but are paid for the services they provide.


Many Egyptian NGOs are dependent on foreign funding but this brings fear for foreign meddling in Egyptian affairs. The government’s policy that permissions need to be requested are thus understandable but the way this has been carried out has been criticized by many Egyptian NGO representatives who experienced that government policy on granting permissions to obtain funding for projects have often neither denied nor have they been approved. Work, as a consequence, would proceed, but often with a shaky foundation.


The reason for Egyptian sensitivities is that at times NGOs were used for political activism. Part of the mobilization during the Revolution of 2011 and resulting instability was accomplished through foreign-funded NGOs with strong partisan political intentions. A high-level Egyptian diplomat provided me a few years ago with much detail and names of foreign-funded NGOs who supported the revolution against President Mubarak in February 2011.


A crackdown on certain entities began, and debate proceeded to create a new law that would fully regulate—some read control—the  NGO sector. After a contentious debate and fierce objection from several prominent NGOs, Parliament passed new legislation on November 29, 2016, which was signed by the president on May 26, 2017. The government has two months from ratification to issue the full legal bylaws.


CAWU’s activities continued through the years of revolution, and in February 2016 it received approval from the Anna Lindh Foundation for an 18,000 Euro project to train intercultural dialogue leaders in a Network for Intercultural Actions in the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria, Minya, and Sohag. Internal personnel changes and the requirement of submitting six copies of anArabic translation of the 200-plus page document resulted in a delay before formal application with the Ministry of Social Solidarity. But submitted on April 7, it has now been more than two months without a response. The project has a seven-month lifespan but with a hard deadline of the end of the calendar year. The clock is ticking. CAWU is not alone. None of Anna Lindh’s

Egypt projects in the past few years have yet been approved.


Perhaps they will not be approved, at least until Law 70 of 2017 and its 89 articles is fully implemented. According to Article 2 of the new law, all NGOs, whether already registered or operating in limbo, will have one year from the date of ratification to bring themselves into accordance with a still to be formed National Authority for the Regulation of Non-Governmental Foreign Organizations. All funding sources and activity types must be communicated; failure to do so will result in dissolution with assets assumed by the Social Fund for Development, a government entity to support civil society. Article 8 says every NGO, even those previously recognized, must pay a registration fee of up to 10,000 LE (around 500 euro) with their paperwork. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said there are around 50,000 NGOs in Egypt. Many of these are not active and thus the registration fee is expected to reduce the number of NGOs in Egypt substantially.


The National Authority will consist of representation from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, Justice, Interior, International Cooperation, and Social Solidarity. The General Intelligence Services, the Central Bank of Egypt, and the government’s money laundering unit will also be represented in the organization. No agreement may be made with any institution or government entity without its approval.


Given the background of the revolution, the new NGO law specifically prohibits any activity harming national security or public safety and order. Conducting public surveys or fieldwork requires specific approval, as does the change of headquarters. Funding received from inside Egypt must be approved 30 days in advance. Funding received from outside Egypt must be notified within 30 days, and may not be spent until after a 60-day review. A previous draft law considered an application approved if no answer was received within this period, but this provision was not retained. Non-response is equivalent to rejection.


Articles 87 and 88 outline the penalties for violation of the law. Prison terms are stipulated for various offenses between one to five years. Fines vary from 20,000 to 1,000,000 LE (around 1,000 to 50,000 euro).


A joint statement by eight NGOs severely criticized the new law. These include the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), Human Rights Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), CIVICUS, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, both within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana (ARCI), and Un Ponte Per. They believe the provisions will cripple civil society, grant the government means to interfere in even the daily workings and leadership selection of NGOs, and stand in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Egypt is a signatory.


Representatives in the legislative and executive branches, however, say it is simply a matter of regulation, and that those opposed are primarily entities that had never secured registration of their status in the first place. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated it is meant to satisfy the principles of transparency and rule of law, without any intention to cripple an NGO’s work.


CAWU needs to wait for the formation of the National Authority for the Regulation of Non-Governmental Foreign Organizations, the new law’s bylaws and needs to study the requirements and recertify its status before the government. Having already been approved as an entity under the old law, it may mostly be a matter of submitting funding sources to the new National Authority. Sixty days later, it should have an answer.


Perhaps then CAWU's mission may be accomplished fully. 


June 24, 2017

Cornelis Hulsman

Deputy Chairman Center for Arab-West Understanding