A law drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice (FJP) party threatens to stifle Egyptian civil society and takes a cue from the authoritarian ways of ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, rights groups said.
The draft law, due to be presented to Egypt's temporary legislature the Shura Council, places tight restrictions on the funding of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), a problem which plagued civil society groups in Mubarak's days.
Raising further alarm, civil society groups have pointed to a recent government letter instructing a leading human rights group not to engage with foreign organizations without the permission of the security apparatus.
It is reminiscent of the tight restrictions that stifled civil society in Mubarak's day, leading to the imprisonment of some prominent activists. Last year, under the generals who assumed power from Mubarak, 19 American pro-democracy activists faced prosecution under the same laws. They were charged with receiving foreign funds illegally.
The draft NGO law follows another from the Islamist-led administration that was criticized for being authoritarian, giving the state too much power to stifle dissent.
The latest draft law prevents any organization from receiving funds from foreign individuals or groups or Egyptians living abroad without the permission of the authorities. It appears to be more restrictive than an earlier draft that was discussed in 2012 in the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament before it was dissolved by a court order.
"It's once again a reflection of a general sense of paranoia when it comes to human rights and democracy," said Heba Morayef, Egypt Director of Human Rights Watch. "When you compare this draft law to the one submitted early last year, you see a shift in approach."
Mokhtar al-Ashry, head of the FJP's legal committee, said restrictions on sources of foreign funding were needed to stop Egypt's enemies hatching plots against the country and preventing money laundering.