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Egypt's Morsy sends bill regulating civil groups to parliament

| Monday, May 27, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

CAIRO — Egypt's president sent a bill that would regulate nongovernmental organizations to the country's interim parliament on Monday after months of criticism by rights groups concerned about stifling of their activities.

The text of the bill presented to the Islamist-dominated Shura Council was not made public, but a top presidential aide said that Mohamed Morsy's legal team took into consideration concerns that had been raised by local and international groups.

NGOs allege past versions of the bill were an attempt to regulate civil society with murky, loosely defined oversight by security agencies of their work. One concern has been that security forces might be allowed to inspect the raw material gathered by human rights groups that collect sensitive testimony from witnesses.

Morsy said in a statement that 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.

Under Mubarak, local and foreign NGOs were not allowed to align themselves with political parties. Involvement in politics was tightly restricted and elections widely rigged.

The United States criticized earlier versions as “a step backwards.”

Presidential aides said that under the proposed bill, civil society groups receiving foreign funding will not be allowed to support Egyptian parties or candidates. On the other hand, broad voter awareness activities would be permitted.

It was not clear what other restrictions might be imposed on foreign funding for local groups and the work of international NGOs.

Those groups have been regarded with suspicion by Egyptian leaders, who have regarded some of their work as foreign interference in domestic affairs.

Under military rule that followed Mubarak's ouster, the Egyptian government shut down several U.S.-funded NGOs and charged some of its activists, including 16 Americans, with criminal offenses, setting off a prolonged diplomatic crisis between the two countries. The Americans left the country and were later tried in absentia.

Presidential aide Khaled Al-Qazzaz said the new bill does not require that security officials be part of a “steering committee” that will decide much of the fate of NGOs. Al-Qazzaz was speaking to reporters along with two other presidential aides before Morsy submitted the bill to the Shura Council for debate.

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