Egypt’s parliament on Tuesday approved a bill to regulate non-governmental organizations in a move human rights groups say effectively bans their work.
Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst crackdown in their history amid a wider campaign under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to erase freedoms won in a 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
The bill, which is subject to a final vote, bans any civil society work that does not fall under its regulation, restricts NGO activity to developmental and social work and introduces jail terms of up to five years for non compliance.
It also bans NGOs from conducting fieldwork or polls without permission or “from cooperating in any way with any international body without the necessary approval” which human rights groups say includes the United Nations.
The bill stipulates that foreign NGOs be overseen by a regulating agency that includes representatives of the military, general intelligence and the Interior Ministry.
“This law is unprecedented in its repression and is the state’s way of declaring war on human rights organizations,” said Mohamed Zaree, Egypt program manager at the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies.
Egypt has accused some NGOs of receiving foreign funding to sow chaos.
Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Waly, whose ministry regulates the NGO sector, said: “The government will submit official comments on the law.” She did not elaborate further.
Parliament approved all 89 articles of the bill on Tuesday but sent it to the State Council for review and will hold a final vote on it later.
The government had been working on a similar bill for the past two years, but 204 lawmakers drafted their own version, which parliament began debating on Monday.
Legal Affairs Minister Magdi al-Agaty had asked MPs to consider the government draft, but was shouted down by several members of parliament.
Agaty later said the government would submit notes on parliament’s bill but there was no “conflict” with parliament and Speaker Ali Abdelaal welcomed the government’s amendments.