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)


Divided Arab economic summit: We must help suffering refugees

Updated 21 January 2019
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Divided Arab economic summit: We must help suffering refugees

  • Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil called for 'effective solutions' for the return of Syrian refugees to their country
  • Summit also called for dialogue over growing tensions between Israel and Palestine

BEIRUT: The fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit was held in Beirut on Sunday, in an effort to, among other things, find ways to alleviate the suffering of refugees in the Middle East.

The summit, though attended by representatives from 20 Arab nations, was soured by the absence of most Arab heads of state, and was divided over several issues, including the absence of Syrian delegates, and a boycott by Libya.

The summit did, though, call for dialogue with the international community over growing tensions between Israel and Palestine.

Delegates expressed their support for the Palestinian people, and cited the “collective responsibility” of all parties towards maintaining the city of Jerusalem’s “Islamic and Christian identity.”

In a statement, the summit declared: “We reiterate Palestinian refugees’ rights of return and compensation, according to the UN General Assembly’s resolution 194 of 1948.”

Delegates also discussed at great length the need for international cooperation to support the growing digital economy across the region. They emphasized “the importance of building the necessary capacity” to benefit from the digital economy, and praised the initiative launched by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, to create a sovereign investment fund to support the development of technology in the Gulf and the Middle East.

They urged all Arab nations to “support this initiative to strengthen the joint Arab economy,” and called on other Arab banks and funds to invest in it.

The summit also praised the role of small and medium businesses across the Arab world for their contribution to flourishing Arab economies, as well as the implementation of the Pan-Arab Renewable Energy Strategy 2030, to ensure power across the region becomes cleaner and more sustainable.

The summit was far from harmonious, though, with the Lebanese foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, addressing the hall to ask the international community “to assume its responsibilities by finding effective solutions for the return of Syrian refugees to their country.”

Bassil called on Arab nations and others to “shoulder the burden, honor their commitments and meet the refugees’ needs.”

There were also disputes over the attendance of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, as well as the boycott by Libyan delegates.

“I am saddened because of the absence of the Libyan delegation, and by the circumstances that led to this point,” Arab League president, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said.

Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, echoed the words of his foreign minister, calling on the international community “to exert all efforts to provide the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country, and to present incentives so they can contribute to their country’s reconstruction.”

He proposed the establishment of an international Arab bank to help affected countries overcome the crisis, and invited established Arab funds to Beirut to discuss his proposals.

“I deplore the absence of other Arab presidents and kings, but each of them has his reason. Our union remains of great importance given that we will not be able to address the challenges facing our region and peoples, unless we agree on key issues,” Aoun said.

The next Arab Economic and Social Development Summit will be held in Mauritania in 2023.