Egypt president approves contentious NGO law

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (File: AFP)
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (File: AFP)

Cairo - Egypt's president has signed into law a contentious new bill to regulate non-governmental organisations, the official gazette said on Monday, triggering fears of an intensified crackdown on civil society.

Authorities have led a brutal crackdown on all forms of opposition, at times targeting human rights organisations directly, since then army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Sisi approved the law on May 24 after parliament approved it in November last year, the gazette said.

Rights lawyer Gamal Eid slammed the text of the new bill, which the United Nations and New York-based Human Rights Watch have also criticised.

"The law eliminates civil society in Egypt, whether human rights or development organisations," Eid said.

Under the law, foreign non-governmental groups will have to pay up to $16 500 to start working in Egypt and renew their permit on a regular basis, the lawyer said.

No organisation can carry out or publish the results of a study or survey without prior permission from the state.

Those who violate the law could receive up to five years in jail and fines of more than $55 000.

It requires for a "national authority" including army and intelligence representatives to oversee the foreign funding of Egyptian non-governmental organisations and the activities of foreign non-governmental organisations.

Since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak, government and security officials have accused civil society of wanting to destabilise the country.

Several human rights defenders have been forbidden to travel outside Egypt and have seen their assets frozen as part of an inquiry into foreign funding to civil society groups started in 2011.

In March last year, the authorities said around 47 000 Egyptian non-governmental groups and more than 100 foreign ones were "working freely" in the country.

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