CAIRO – A leading Egyptian human rights group on Thursday denounced a draft law prepared by the country's Islamist government to grant licenses and monitor the funding for non-governmental groups, describing it as continuation of the former regime's policy which sought to "besiege" civil society.
The Egyptian government already is in a tug-of-war over another contentious draft judicial law which both judges and the country's liberal opposition charge is a means of orchestrating Islamists' control over the courts.
Disputes over the draft laws have escalated tension between President Mohammed Morsi and his opponents, and prompted the resignations of Morsi's top legal adviser and justice minister, who both decried the proposals.
Morsi, an Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood party, was elected following the ouster of authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Since then, Islamist parties have swept elections and dominated legislative councils and the presidency.
Under Mubarak's regime, human rights groups faced a backlash from police for exposing human rights violations of abuse and torture. Now with Islamists in power, such groups fear heavier restrictions if the legislature passes laws regulating their work and funding.
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said one law, proposed by the Justice Ministry, would give the government full control over the flow of foreign funds to NGOs.
A copy of the draft law obtained by The Associated Press states that NGOs would be banned from directly receiving foreign funds and instead would get money through a government bank account. It stated that no transfer of money would be allowed until a "steering committee," comprising members of the Interior Ministry and National Security Agency, approved or rejected it within 60 days.
The institute says the draft law would empower Egyptian security agencies to monitor funding and grant licenses to domestic and international groups, effectively giving the government the upper hand over the activities of NGOs. It charges that the proposal would codify into law "repressive security practices used by the state against civil society."
The draft law also imposes fines that could reach 5 million Egyptian pounds ($714,000) for those who violate regulations related to foreign funding. It also gives the government the right to suspend an organization's activities inside Egypt or cancel its license.
Another proposed law, which was presented by The Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, is currently being debated in parliament.
NGOs allege that it too is an attempt to "nationalize" the work of civil society.
More than 20 groups opposed to it said in February that the draft law grants security agencies the right to reject or approve foreign funds and vaguely defines what are considered approved activities of an NGO, saying they must be consistent with the "needs" of Egyptian society.
"Either bill, if passed, will serve to insulate the old machine of repression and torture from criticism and oversight, facilitate the repression of freedom of expression and the press," said a joint statement issued earlier by the groups.