Egypt’s El-Sisi says law curbing NGOs needs to be more “balanced“

In this photo provided by Egypt's state news agency MENA, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, speaks during a youth conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. (AP)
Updated 05 November 2018
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Egypt’s El-Sisi says law curbing NGOs needs to be more “balanced“

  • Rights groups say the May 2017 law effectively bans their work and makes it harder for charities to operate
  • El-Sisi said: “I believe in the work done by civil society organizations.”

CAIRO: Egypt’s president has signalled he might order a review of a law restricting the work of non-governmental organizations, which has raised an outcry from human rights groups, saying it needed to be “balanced.”
Rights groups say the May 2017 law effectively bans their work and makes it harder for charities to operate. Officials have said it is necessary, arguing that foreign-funded NGOs threaten national security.
Responding to a request from a participant in a youth forum in the Red Sea city of Sharm Al-Sheikh on Sunday to revisit the NGO law, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said: “I agree with you. I believe in the work done by civil society organizations.”
“The law contained phobia and a fear of these organizations for Egypt,” he added.
“I want to reassure those who are listening to me inside Egypt and outside of Egypt, that in Egypt, we are keen that the law becomes balanced and achieves what is required of it to regulate the work of these groups in a good way. This is not just political talk,” El-Sisi said.
The measure restricts NGO activity to development and social work and brought in jail terms of up to five years for violation.
El-Sisi said the government was dissatisfied with the law when it was issued last year and he had opted not to actively enforce it, “in the hope that we can move to redraft it.”
While critics have said that the law mainly targets rights groups, even apolitical charities have complained it restricts them at a time when subsidy cuts and tax increases have made it harder for Egyptians to make ends meet.
Charities have long played an important role in feeding, clothing and providing health care and education in a country where millions live on less than $2 a day.
Under the law, donations exceeding 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($560) must be pre-approved. If no approval is granted within 60 days the request is automatically denied. Failure to inform authorities could result in jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to 1 million Egyptian pounds ($56,000).
Gamal Eid, founder and director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, expressed skepticism over El-Sisi’s seriousness in amending the law.
“If the calls for an independent civil society from abroad ease, he will not amend the law,” Eid said, adding that the government did not respect civil society in Egypt. ($1 = 17.8600 Egyptian pounds)


US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

Updated 7 min 33 sec ago
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US clinches strategic port deal with Oman

  • The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy
  • The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence

WASHINGTON: The United States clinched a strategic port deal with Oman on Sunday which US officials say will allow the US military better access to the Gulf region and reduce the need to send ships through the Strait of Hormuz, a maritime choke point off Iran.
The US embassy in Oman said in a statement that the agreement governed US access to facilities and ports in Duqm as well as in Salalah and "reaffirms the commitment of both countries to promoting mutual security goals."
The accord is viewed through an economic prism by Oman, which wants to develop Duqm while preserving its Switzerland-like neutral role in Middle Eastern politics and diplomacy.
But it comes as the United States grows increasingly concerned about Iran's expanding missile programs, which have improved in recent years despite sanctions and diplomatic pressure by the United States.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deal was significant by improving access to ports that connect to a network of roads to the broader region, giving the US military great resiliency in a crisis.
"We used to operate on the assumption that we could just steam into the Gulf," one US official said, adding, however, that "the quality and quantity of Iranian weapons raises concerns."
Tehran has in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route at the mouth of the Gulf, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
Still, the US official noted that the agreement would expand US military options in the region for any kind of crisis.
Duqm is an ideal port for large ships. It is even big enough to turn around an aircraft carrier, a second official said.
"The port itself is very attractive and the geostrategic location is very attractive, again being outside the Strait of Hormuz," the official said, adding that negotiations began under the Obama administration.
For Oman, the deal will further advance its efforts to transform Duqm, once just a fishing village 550 km (345 miles) south of capital Muscat, into a key Middle East industrial and port center, as its diversifies its economy beyond oil and gas exports.
The deal could also better position the United States in the region for what has become a global competition with China for influence.
Chinese firms once aimed to invest up to $10.7 billion in the Duqm project, a massive injection of capital into Oman, in what was expected to be a commercial, not military, arrangement.
"It looks to me like the Chinese relationship here isn't as big as it appeared it was going to be a couple of years ago," the second official said.
"There's a section of the Duqm industrial zone that's been set aside for the Chinese ... and as far as I can tell so far they've done just about nothing."
Still, China has in the past shown no qualms about rubbing up against US military facilities.
In 2017, the African nation of Djibouti, positioned at another geostrategic choke-point, the strait of Bab Al-Mandeb, became home to China's first overseas military base. The US military already had a base located just miles away, which has been crucial for operations against Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.