Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi [BBC profile] sent a bill to the country's interim parliament on Monday that would regulate non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The most recent draft [AP report] allocates wider financial autonomy to civic associations and NGOs. According to presidential aides, the bill does not require NGOs to hold their money in public funds and removes wording that required NGOs to receive foreign funds indirectly through a government bank account. The bill maintains that a steering committee composed of nine officialsfour from the NGO community, four appointed by the Minister of Social Solidarity and the minister himselfwill grant and reject NGO licenses. The committee may also object to NGO activities that exceed or contradict the groups mission and refer an NGO to a court to revoke their license. In a statement Monday, Morsi said the bill is aimed at committing NGOs to the principles of transparency and striking a balance with "the openness of Egypt" after the uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The most recent draft also took into consideration concerns that had been raised by local and international groups including protection of raw materials, specifically sensitive witness testimony and permission to conduct broad voter awareness activities.
Egypt has been plagued by continuing political turmoil since the beginning of its revolution [JURIST backgrounder]. Earlier versions of the bill were regarded [JURIST report] as an attempt to regulate the work of civil society with loosely defined oversight and were compared to the autocratic policies of the Mubarak regime. Both the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) [advocacy website] and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] denounced [JURIST report] prior drafts as a "striking infringement" on the right to freedom of association. In April a number of Egyptian opposition groups filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] demanding public debate of the country's budget. Earlier in April the Shura Council approved [JURIST report] new election procedures to elect the House of Representatives. The process has been delayed, however, by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court referring [JURIST report] the newly passed law to the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) for review. The court's decision was said to be based on technical grounds, namely that the Shura Council failed to return the amended electoral to the SCC for final review before passing it [JURIST report]. The law was amended in five key areas as demanded by the high court [JURIST report]. In March the SCC dismissed complaints [JURIST report] against the assembly responsible for drafting the country's new constitution.