Top Egypt academics repudiate draft law




By Mark Huband in Cairo

Financial Times, 25 May 1999

Four leading academics involved in drafting Egypt’s law controlling non-governmental organisations (NGOs) yesterday disowned the draft legislation presented to parliament, saying it had been radically altered to allow government control of the organisations.

The repudiation of the law by two lawyers and two university professors marks a significant escalation of protest against the draft law on associations and private institutions. Protests began at the weekend when three civil liberties advocates began a hunger strike to demand the law be redrafted. The four members of the drafting committee issued a statement yesterday seriously embarrassing the government. The affair marks the first big test of Cairo’s readiness to extend the reformist zeal it has shown in the economic area to civil society.

“Many of the articles of the proposed law have been removed, deleted or changed, and new ones added. The draft proposed to parliament is not the draft we approved, and we are not responsible for any of the changes and deletions, which have deemed the law meaningless,” the statement said.

Fourteen NGOs on Sunday issued a letter of protest against the law. Many had been consulted by the ministry of social affairs prior to the draft being written, and had expected a radical break from current legislation, which dates from 1964. The new law would allow the ministry to impose directors on NGO boards, control the source of NGO funds, and deny NGOs the right to be active in areas deemed political by the government.

The Forum for the Promotion of Civil Society, an informal organisation, yesterday said it would lobby parliament to force the assembly to reject the law, which was also condemned in an open letter signed yesterday by 20 writers and academics.

The hunger strikers, Aida Seif al-Dawla, Suzanne Fayad and Rahma Refa’at, are all distinguished academics and advocates of a fundamental loosening of the government’s tight grip on society. They plan to continue the hunger strike, the first of its kind since 1954, until the draft law is reviewed.

“If this law is passed, every single NGO will be a branch of the ministry of social affairs,” said Aida Seif al-Dawla, one of the hunger strikers and a leading psychiatrist. “The whole point of the NGOs’ independence is to allow them to monitor the government,” she said.


© Financial Times