Twenty-three Egyptian human rights organizations submitted a memo to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on Thursday criticizing recent steps taken by the Ministry of Social Solidarity against non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The statement condemned a new draft bill regulating civil society in Egypt, as well as a recent notification giving NGOs a 45 day deadline to register with the ministry.

Among the NGOs that signed the statement are the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, and the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

Announcing the statement, CIHRS said that the new NGO law “would lead to the “nationalization” of civil society, transforming it into a quasi-governmental sector and subjecting it to unrestricted prerogatives of the security apparatus.”

In the memo, the NGOs also expressed their objection to a measure taken by the Ministry of Social Solidarity giving civil society organizations a 45 day period to register with the ministry, or face possible dissolution.

The ministry’s announcement stated:

The NGOs’ statement describes the measure as a “declaration of war by the government on freedom of association and the work of civil society organizations in Egypt.” The statement added that the decision could “severely undermine the Egyptian legal framework and destroy any remaining confidence in the  legal and judicial systems,” and result in the closure of several human rights organizations and the arrest of their staff.

The organizations called on the Egyptian government to “take a number of serious, immediate measures to put a stop to the ongoing deterioration of the state of human rights in Egypt and to provide a positive indication about the sincerity of its intentions to establish a state based on the rule of law and respect for the constitution.” They also called on the ministry to use a 2013 version of the NGO law drafted by a committee formed by former Minister of Social Solidarity, Ahmed Boraie, as a basis for the new bill. They called on the government to revoke the notice issued by the ministry of social solidarity, as well as requesting technical consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights when drafting the legislation relating to civil society.

For an in-depth review of the latest NGO law proposed by the ministry of social solidarity, click here.