|Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
14 - 20 December 2000
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
New parliament launched
The newly-elected People's Assembly held its first procedural meeting yesterday, as the NDP prepared itself for five more years as the majority party, write Nevine Khalil and Gamal Essam El-DinIn his capacity as chairman of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), President Hosni Mubarak met on Monday with its newly-elected members to brief them on a number of domestic and foreign issues and provide guidelines for their work for the next five years.
During the 90-minute meeting, current House Speaker Fathi Sorour was re-nominated for the same post, while Amal Osman and El-Sayed Rashed were re-nominated for the posts of deputy speakers.
Mubarak urged MPs to work "for the good of the people" and thoroughly study all legislation before it is debated in parliament. He also told Prime Minister Atef Ebeid that draft laws must be discussed in the Shura Council before they are sent to the People's Assembly.
On economic issues, Mubarak said that a decision to boycott US or British products as a way of publicising objections to their Middle East policies "should be studied thoroughly" because it can be very harmful to the Egyptian economy. "We have to go about this wisely and not base our decision on illusions of grandeur," he said. "We have to be realistic and serve our own interests."
In the same breath, the president noted that he "understands" the call for a boycott of Israeli commodities. "If you call for a boycott of Israeli products, I would say that you have a point," he told the gathering. Regarding the recalling of Egypt's ambassador to Tel Aviv last month in protest against Israel's aggression against the Palestinians, Mubarak said that Egyptian-Israeli relations were cool, but not frozen. "We are bound by diplomatic ties with Israel," he explained, "and severing diplomatic ties altogether is only an option when there is a direct threat to Egypt." The president continued that although the ambassador was recalled "for consultations", Cairo remains in regular contact with Tel Aviv. "We can tell the Israelis the truth to their face: that what they're doing is wrong. This is unlike other parties to the peace process, because we don't have any pressure groups or lobbies to influence our policies," he said.
He added that Cairo will continue in its efforts to revive the peace process, "while other parties such as the US are preoccupied with other matters."
Turning to NDP party politics, Mubarak noted that the NDP general-secretariat had met several times since last month's elections to assess the party's performance, "discussing the negative and positive aspects" of the election process. He noted that winning a majority is not an achievement in itself and, therefore, an evaluation committee was established to review the NDP's performance and draw up a plan for overhauling the ruling party to make it more effective.
The evaluation committee is headed by NDP secretary-general Youssef Wali and includes Minister of Information Safwat El-Sherif, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Kamal El-Shazli, Fawzia Abdel-Sattar, Sayed Rashed, Zakaria Azmi, Gamal Mubarak, Ahmed Ezz and Mohamed Ragab.
In his opening remarks at Monday's meeting, El-Shazli said that the general-secretariat met to discuss ways of resolving the problems encountered during the recent elections. These include revising voter lists, limiting voter numbers at each polling station (which reached some 3,000 voters in many stations across the country), reforming the party and expanding grassroots participation (especially by young people).
In order to better facilitate voting in future elections, Mubarak said that the Ministry of Interior is currently revising voter lists in order to have them corrected as soon as possible, hopefully before the Shura Council elections in April. The president also expressed hope that the larger part of the National ID project would have been completed by the next parliamentary elections in 2005, thus better regulating the voting process.
The newly-elected People's Assembly held a procedural meeting on Wednesday to elect a Speaker and two deputies. However, plunging into business will only begin after President Hosni Mubarak addresses a joint session of the People's Assembly and Shura Council on Sunday.
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) nominated Ahmed Fathi Sorour to retain his post as Speaker, to make him the longest-serving speaker in modern national history. He has held the post since 1990 following the assassination of Rifaat El-Mahgoub.
The NDP also nominated Amal Osman and El-Sayed Rashed as the Speaker's two deputies. For the first time, two Wafdists, businessman Mohamed Farid Hassanein and journalist Ayman Nour, vied for the posts of Speaker and deputy speaker for the professionals' (fi'at) seat.
According to the Assembly's internal regulations, the procedural meeting was chaired by three members: the oldest and the two youngest MPs. They are 75-year-old Khaled Mohieddin, Walid Abu-Kreisha, 30, and Mohamed Abdel-Hamid Radwan, 31. Mohieddin is leader of the leftist Tagammu Party and a representative of the Nile Delta governorate of Qaliubiya, while Kreisha and Radwan are newcomers from the Upper Egyptian governorate of Sohag.
In elections that ended on 14 November, the NDP won 388 seats (87 per cent) out of the contested 442 seats, compared with 410 seats in the outgoing Assembly. The House includes 17 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, seven Wafdists, six Tagammu members, two Nasserists, one Liberal Party member and 22 independents. Elections for the Assembly's two remaining seats in Alexandria's Al-Raml district have been postponed and a new date has yet to be set by the Interior Ministry.
Of the members of the outgoing Assembly, 320 deputies lost their seats and only 132 were re-elected.
President Mubarak, as empowered by the Constitution, on Monday appointed 10 members -- four women and six men _ of the new Assembly. Of these, one woman and three men are Coptic Christians. This raises to seven the number of Christians (six Copts and one Roman Catholic) in the House and to 11 the number of women.
The presidentially-appointed members are: Assistant to the Foreign Minister Mustafa El-Fiqi; former head of the State Council Hanna Mena Hanna; army engineer Fathi Qozman; dean of Al-Azhar's Faculty of the Fundamentals of Religion Abdel-Moeti Bayoumi; head of Minya governorate's Syndicate of Pharmacists Badr Rizkallah; and secretary-general of the Islamic Research Centre Abdel-Rahman El-Adawi. The appointed women are Dean of Cairo University's Faculty of Arab and Islamic Studies (Fayoum branch) Zeinab Radwan; former deputy governor of the Central Bank Faeqa El-Rifaie; professor at Zaqaziq University's Faculty of Medicine (Benha branch) Hoda Zorqana; and Georgette Quellini. To be eligible for the appointment, El-Fiqi resigned his posts at the Foreign Ministry and the Arab League.
In the meantime, the NDP has been rife with differences throughout the week over the choice of chairmen for 18 parliamentary committees. Informed sources said that former Minister of Electricity Maher Abaza and El-Fiqi were vying for the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Three deputies are also competing for the chairmanship of the Religious Affairs Committee. They are Mohamed Ali Mahgoub, former minister of Al-Awqaf (religious endowments), and appointed members El-Adawi and Bayoumi.
The NDP candidates for chairing other committees include Mohamed Gweili for the Proposals and Complaints Committee, Hamdi El-Konayessi, chairman of Egyptian Radio, for the Culture and Information Committee; Ahmed Abu-Zeid, former NDP majority leader, for the Arab Affairs Committee; and Mohamed Moussa for the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Nominees for the six economic committees include businessman Abdallah Tayel (the Economic Affairs Committee); Amin Mubarak (the Industry Committee); businessman Ahmed Ezz (the Budget and Plan Committee), Abu-Bakr El-Bassel (the Agriculture Committee); and Abdel-Aziz Mustafa (the Labour Force Committee); Hamdi El-Tahan (Transport and Telecommunications), and Mohamed Mahmoud Ali Hassan (the Housing Committee). Hassan is also a candidate to replace Abu Zeid as the NDP majority leader.
The NDP also nominated businessman Hossam Badrawi as chairman of the Education and Scientific Research Committee; Hamdi El-Sayed, head of the Doctors' Syndicate, as chairman of the Health and Environmental Affairs Committee; businessman Hossam Awad as chairman of the Youth and Sports Committee; former minister Mahmoud El-Sherif as chairman of the Local Administration Committee; and Fathi Qozman as chairman of the National Defence Committee.
A number of independent candidates voiced strong objections to what they call the monopoly exercised by the NDP over parliament's committees. "All Egyptians know quite well that the NDP lost its majority in the recent elections in favour of independent candidates," veteran independent Farouk Metwalli told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We will try to form a parliamentary group that includes the largest possible number of independents to expose the NDP's false majority in the new Assembly."
Metwalli noted that at least six businessmen were poised to head committees, and this required that a rival strong parliamentary group be formed to make sure that these committees were not steered to serve the personal interests of these businessmen.
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