In an action viewed by human rights groups as a crackdown on democratic practices, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has ratified a law that will regulate the work of nongovernmental organizations in the country, Reuters reports.
The measure restricts NGO activity to developmental and social work and introduces jail terms of up to five years for non-compliance. The country's forty-six thousand NGOs have one year to comply with the measure or face dissolution. Passed by parliament in November, the law also requires that NGOs seek approval of gifts in excess of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $550); if approval isn't granted within sixty days, the request will automatically be denied. Failure to inform authorities of a gift subject to the law could result in a jail term of up to five years and fines of 1 million pounds ($55,000).
The government had been working for years on a new law regulating NGOs, and rights groups feared it would be more restrictive than Mubarak-era regulations, but the bill that emerged was so restrictive that even cabinet ministers objected. The law also gives the government power over who can establish an NGO and for what purpose.
Human rights groups told Reuters the new law effectively bans their work in the country and will make it harder for other charities to operate there. Charities have long played an important role in feeding, clothing, and providing health care and education in Egypt, where millions of people live on less than $2 a day.
"Cairo will no doubt be met with a lot of concern raised internationally around the passage of the law," said H.A. Hellyer, senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council. "But the Egyptian authorities have assessed that, and are moving forward, clearly."