|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
12 - 18 November 1998
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Busy session for Assembly
The fourth session of the People's Assembly's five-year term, which began yesterday, has taken on an added significance. It is set to nominate President Hosni Mubarak for a fourth presidential term. Mubarak's third six-year term expires in October 1999. The president is expected to deliver a keynote address on Saturday before a joint session of the Assembly and the Shura Council.
In yesterday's procedural session, Ahmed Fathi Sorour was, as expected, re-elected Assembly speaker for a record 10th consecutive time. Amal Osman and El-Sayed Rashed were re-elected deputy speakers.
Sorour ran for the post uncontested, although a press campaign against him gathered steam last week. He was accused not only of undermining the Assembly's supervision of the government's performance, but of failing to impose strict rules of conduct on Assembly members. Several members have lost their parliamentary immunity or have been referred to investigation by an ethics committee on charges ranging from financial irregularities to misconduct.
Sorour will face a major test when the Assembly gets down to business. On Sunday, the Assembly's legislative and constitutional committee will open a debate on a presidential decree issued in August during the Assembly's summer recess. The decree cancels the retroactive implementation of rulings by the Constitutional Court on the unconstitutionality of legal texts related to taxation. The decree has triggered controversy and is expected to face opposition in the Assembly. Under the constitution, presidential decrees issued during an Assembly recess must be submitted to the Assembly once it reconvenes. The Assembly is empowered to either approve or reject them but cannot introduce amendments.
During the recess, Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri announced that the government will not submit new economic legislation to the Assembly. "The government has laid down the legal foundations for a market economy with the privatisation and liberalisation laws which have been passed over the last three years," Ganzouri said. "It is important not to confuse the business community with any additional laws."
The Assembly is, however, expected to debate a new government bill that would regulate the performance of the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). During stormy debates last year on the privatisation of public sector banks, El-Ganzouri promised that the CBE law would be amended to increase the bank's autonomy in decision-making.
The government is also expected to submit a long-awaited labour bill to regulate relations between employers and workers in a market economy. Deputy Speaker Rashed, who is also chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions, told Al-Ahram Weekly that it was high time a new "unified labour law" was passed by the Assembly before the end of this century.
An equally controversial bill which would remove restrictions on the rents of flats in old buildings, will not be on the Assembly's agenda this session. Majority leader Ahmed Abu Zeid told the Weekly that the long-awaited law is highly important because it directly affects the lives of 90 percent of the people. "It would be better to see this law passed next century when economic reforms have finally begun to augment income of a majority of Egyptians," Abu Zeid said.
The Assembly is expected to endorse an international agreement raising Egypt's contribution to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from MU (monetary unit) 678 million to MU 943 million.
The agenda also includes draft laws on traffic regulations and public mobilisation in times of war.
Opposition MPs are eager for closer monitoring of the government's performance. Ayman Nour, a Wafdist deputy, will inquire why the government has so far refused to license new press publications. He will also ask El-Ganzouri about the increasing number of loans provided by banks to businessmen without sufficient collateral.
Raafat Seif and El-Badri Farghali, two leftist MPs, will submit interpellations about the government's housing and financial policies which, they claim, have created financial hardships for many Egyptians.
Yassin Serageddin, a Wafdist, told the Weekly he is anxious to ask El-Ganzouri how much money has been spent thus far on the giant Toshka land reclamation project in southwest Egypt.
Israeli policies are high on the legislator's agenda. Mahmoud Zeinhom, an independent with Nasserist leanings, will question Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's remark in which he described Egypt as "our southern enemy." "This statement is a flagrant violation of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, and we want to know how our Foreign Ministry reacted to it," Zeinhom told the Weekly.
Ayman Nour will also bring to light an alleged attempt by a foreign embassy, which he did not name, to spy on a number of high-ranking state officials.