Washington, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, joined by Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) wrote Egyptian President Morsi on Friday expressing serious concern regarding a draft NGO law currently being discussed and circulated by the Morsi government.
The letter signed by Engel and Royce appears below:
February 22, 2013
The Honorable Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat
President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
c/o Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Ct. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear President Morsi:
We are writing with concern to the Civil Associations and Institutions Act, or “NGO Law,” recently drafted and distributed by your cabinet.
In countries all over the world, including here in the U.S., independent civil society organizations are integral to the creation and maintenance of vibrant and strong democratic systems. Independent civil society, free of government interference, is one of the fundamental checks and balances necessary for building a healthy democratic society. It is therefore crucial that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are able to function in countries in transition, as well as in established democracies. In December 2011, as Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party, you stated that "(t)he FJP supports immediate lifting of restrictions on the establishment and registration of NGOs, so interested groups can work legally and transparently…(i)ndeed, Egypt needs the support of NGOs especially in the areas of human development, education, technology transfer and public administration."
With this in mind, we write to express our serious concerns regarding the draft NGO law. As we understand the draft law, it would codify some of the historically unjust practices of the previous regime related to civil society, specifically:
• Limiting the purposes and activities of associations and foundations, (Articles 1, 9, and 11), and granting the security-related “steering committee” the power to approve or deny funding to an association based on the specific activities for which it would be used, (Article 57).
• Allowing government officials to dissolve an organization at their discretion. An NGO can be dissolved, for example, if the government determines that it is unable “to achieve the purposes for which it was created” or has received "funds from a foreign entity in violation of the provisions" of the law (Article 42).
• Requiring an organization to possess 250,000 Egyptian pounds -- more than $35,000 -- to be formed, making it even more difficult than before to establish new NGOs in Egypt (Articles 1(2) and 1(5)).
• Making it virtually impossible for international NGOs to work independently in Egypt, (Articles 57-60).
• Prohibiting Egyptian NGOs from receiving financial assistance without the prior approval of four government ministries, (Article 58).
Rather, it is our hope that your government will enact an NGO law that allows international and Egyptian civil society groups to play a constructive role in the transition to democracy, freely and without interference, as they work to expand respect for human rights and help the Egyptian people in their efforts to form a more just, open, and equitable political system.
We urge you to review and revise the draft law to ensure that the freedoms of assembly, association, religion, and expression are fully protected.
EDWARD R. ROYCE ELIOT L. ENGEL
Chairman Ranking Member