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)


Lebanon bank deposits up 4% on year

Updated 34 min 39 sec ago
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Lebanon bank deposits up 4% on year

BEIRUT: Bank deposits in Lebanon have risen by 4 percent on the year, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said on Thursday, and he maintained his economic growth outlook for 2018 at 2 percent.

In July Salameh had said he expected bank deposits to grow by more than 5 percent in 2018.

In October the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) halved their growth outlook to one percent for Lebanon, where public debt is about 150 percent of gross domestic product.

“Lebanese banks have succeeded in maintaining foreign exchange inflows into their sector supported by (the central bank),” Salmeh said in a televised speech at a Beirut economic conference.

With growth low and traditional sources of foreign exchange — tourism, real estate and foreign investment — undermined by years of regional tension, Lebanon increasingly relies on dollars expatriate Lebanese deposit in local banks.

The banks buy government debt, which finances the country’s eye-watering public debt and twin deficits.

The central bank also brings in dollars through complex financial operations with local banks to boost foreign currency reserves needed to defend the Lebanese pound’s peg to the dollar.

However, deposits have been growing at a slower rate since war broke out in neighboring Syria in 2011, and deposit growth rates are closely watched.