Egypt Clamps Down on Human Rights Groups

The Egyptian parliament has approved a new law that gives the state extensive power over the activities of nongovernmental and human rights groups in the country, the Associated Press reports.

The law, which must be ratified by the country's president, would require NGOs and other groups to get permission from an oversight body for foreign funding or local donations of more than ten thousand pounds (about $550), as well as for seemingly mundane activities such as relocating their headquarters or conducting surveys or research. The oversight body comprises members of several government agencies, including the ministries of defense and interior, and state security agencies. Under the law, violators would be subject to five years in prison and fines of up to a million Egyptian pounds (approximately $55,000).

Rights groups condemned the law, arguing that it would effectively shut down many NGOs and nonprofits operating in the country. While supporters of the bill argue that it is necessary to the country's security, critics said it was part of a widening crackdown on dissent associated with the policies of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

"This bill proposes perhaps the worst restrictions on fundamental freedoms in Egypt since the 2011 uprisings," said Maina Kiai, UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. "It aims to destroy Egypt’s foundation for peaceful, civil engagement at its very roots....Civil society can't perform this function when the law reduces it to the role of the government's spokesperson."