Allison McManus, Research Director
January 6, 2017
Egypt’s controversial legislation imposing strict regulations and harsh penalties for non-governmental organizations remains in flux. Despite outcry from domestic and international observers around draconian restrictions and stiff penalties, the bill that passed saw little debate in parliament; it was discussed in committee and approved with a two-thirds majority in less than a week. After being reviewed by the State Council for compliance with the constitution, the law formally passed the legislature on November 29.
Yet, over a month later, the law has still not seen the signature needed from President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for ratification.
So what happened to the law?
Article 123 of Egypt’s constitution states that any law will be automatically ratified 30 days after “notification of parliament’s approval” to the president, should he fail to veto or enact into law. However, the process of notification is not clearly outlined; on December 10, Sisi declared that he had not received the law, indicating that this 30 day period was not yet in effect. Two days ago, Representative Muhammad Anwar Sadat, a vocal critic of the new law and himself the head of the El Sadat Association for Social Development and Welfare, issued an urgent statement to Speaker of the House Ali Abdel ‘Al: “Where is the law?” he demanded.
Yesterday, parliamentarian Muhammad Abu Hamed responded, adding little clarity to the situation, stating that the law hadn’t been sent as of Sisi’s December 10 declaration, though parliament had “completed the necessary steps.” Another source in the General Secretariat of the House of Representatives (an administrative office similar to the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives) confirmed yesterday that the law has not yet been sent to Sisi.
So where does the law stand?
In the same December 10 speech, Sisi also asked the parliament to “re-discuss” the law, “taking into account” the proposals of civil society and political parties. The problem with this directive is that no legal pathway exists for such a re-discussion. Article 172 of the parliamentary bylaws states that the president (or other bodies) may request reconsideration of drafts only before they receive a final vote. Once passed by parliament, they can only be reconsidered in the event of a veto.
Thus, while Sisi’s request seemed a positive call to bring the legislation in line with the recommendations of civil society and Egypt’s constitutional and legal obligations, legally the burden still falls on him to either ratify the law or to veto it (once it is received, of course). Should he veto the law, it would return to parliament for reconsideration, at which point, per Article 123 of the constitution, the parliament could either override the veto with a two-thirds majority vote or reconsider the legislation entirely.
So what does this mean?
Effectively, the law is in a sort of legal limbo. Without formal recognition from the executive of receipt of “notification,” the president can neither ratify nor veto the law. And, with the House of Representatives being out of session until January 16, it is unclear how the law would reach Sisi’s desk until after that time.
It should be noted that, since the passage of the NGO Law, several other high profile pieces of legislation have been passed and duly signed into law, including the highly publicized Media Institutions Law. Thus, there is no reason to believe the law is being held as a mere function of a difficult or lengthy process between the legislature and the executive. Far more likely is that the enormous international pressure that Sisi faced after the law’s passage in parliament — including threats to cut aid should he sign it into effect — has caused the delay and prompted his statements on reconsidering it.
The obvious concern with this approach of kicking the can down the road is that the longer the process takes, the less attention will be given to its signing. Legally, the buck stops with Sisi — and in the midst of a controversy over the Tiran and Sanafir islands transfer that is dominating news headlines, the impending inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump and the much friendlier relations his administration is likely to bring to Cairo, and the approaching anniversary of the January 25 uprising, Sisi is likely merely biding his time for the opportune moment to sign the NGO Law.
UPDATE: As of January 5, representative Abdel Hadi al-Qasbi the head of the Social Solidarity Committee, stated that the law remained in the parliament, apparently for proofreading