Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Parliament in waiting

Following a two-month election campaign, Egypt’s new parliament will open in two weeks, but not before President Al-Sisi issues three decrees, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is expected to issue three decrees as the newly-elected legislative chamber gets ready to convene following the conclusion of Egypt’s first parliamentary elections in more than three years.

On Tuesday, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati disclosed that the opening procedural sitting of the House of Representatives — Egypt’s lower house of parliament — will, in all probability, be held on 10 January, or after the Christmas and Coptic holidays. “Preparations are also under way so that parliament can open in two weeks,” Agati told the official Middle East News Agency (MENA).

Agati indicated that all of parliament’s 568 elected seats had been filled. As many as 325 (57 per cent) won as independents, while 243 (43 per cent) won as party affiliates. “The number will finally reach 596 when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi appoints 28 public figures (five per cent) as presidential appointees,” said Al-Agati.  

According to two articles in the 2014 constitution, the president is authorised to appoint a number of public figures as parliamentary deputies, with the stipulation that at least half of the appointees be women, and that they must also include representatives of workers, farmers, youth, Copts, and the physically challenged.

Article 27 also stipulates that in selecting appointees, the president must make sure they are not members of any political faction, were not candidates who lost in the polls, are not members of any ruling party he heads, and are people who have “performed outstandingly in their professions”.

Rumours were rampant in parliamentary circles this week that Adli Mansour, Egypt’s former interim president from 2013 to 2014, and who is the current chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), would be appointed, which could pave the way for his election by MPs as speaker ‎of Egypt’s new parliament.

A number of MPs affiliated with a pro-Al-Sisi parliamentary bloc, ‘The Pro-Egyptian State Coalition’, told reporters Monday that they had sent Al-Sisi a message urging him to put Mansour on top of the list of 28 presidential appointees. Informed sources said the message came after Al-Sisi met Mansour twice this week, on Saturday and Monday, to discuss whether he would be appointed in parliament and other crucial constitutional issues.

Only two MPs — TV host Tawfik Okasha and former president of Al-Azhar University Osama Al-Abd — have so far announced they will run for the post of speaker. But the two do not have any significant support among MPs.

The pro-Al-Sisi MPs said if Mansour was not appointed, they would nominate Ali Abdel-Al, a constitutional law professor who won a seat in the Upper Egypt governorate of Aswan, as speaker.

Other MPs also guess that two high-profile figures — former foreign minister Amr Moussa and current Minister of Justice Ahmed Al-Zend – would be appointed so that one of them could be elected speaker.

One informed source with the pro-Al-Sisi bloc told Al-Ahram Weekly that the bloc had no idea who will be appointed by Al-Sisi.
“All we know is that he should appoint at least 14 women as MPs,” the source said.

The National Council for Women (NCW) said a record 73 women won seats in Egypt’s new parliament. “If a list of 14 female appointees is added, the total number would climb to an unprecedented 87, or 12.8 per cent, a historic achievement,” the NCW said in a statement.

Shawki Al-Sayed, a high profile constitutional law professor, hailed the fact that all the parliament’s elected seats were filled without serious constitutional or legal challenges. “But there are appeals against the results of the polls in certain constituencies lodged with the Court of Cassation,” he said. “Unlike under the Mubarak regime, parliament will be obliged to implement rulings issued by the Court of Cassation on appeals against election results in accordance with Article 107 of the constitution.”

Once Al-Sisi’s decree on presidential appointees is issued, it will be followed by another on the opening of the new parliament. According to Article 117 of the constitution, parliament’s opening session is primarily procedural, with MPs required to elect a speaker and two deputies for only one legislative session, and that its duration is no more than nine months.  

“The speaker and his two deputies should be elected by the majority — two-thirds — of MPs in a plenary procedural session,” said Al-Sayed, adding, “This will be followed by another procedural sitting later on the same day to announce the results of electing chairmen and deputies for 19 parliamentary committees.”

Al-Sayed noted that once parliament holds its procedural opening meeting, it will be required to vote on laws that have been issued by the president while it has not been in session.

According to Article 156, parliament should discuss and vote on laws that have been issued by the president while it was not in session, and that these votes should be within 15 days of the start of the session. “This is a big challenge that the new parliament should meet,” said Al-Sayed.

Article 156 was so controversial that it left political experts and constitutional law professors highly divided. While some like Abdel-Al argued that it obligates parliament to discuss laws and decrees issued for matters of necessity within just 15 days, others like the liberal Free Egyptians Party insist that the article is clear that all laws that have been issued since July 2013 must be voted on within 15 days.

Meantime, Al-Sayed argued that Article 150 of the constitution does not make it obligatory for the president to come to parliament after its opening session to deliver a speech.  

“But I think that Al-Sisi will be keen to invite the House to an extraordinary session to deliver a speech on the state’s public policies. His speech before parliament will reinforce his international standing as an elected president of Egypt, and that he does not want to hold all the reins of powers,” Al-Sayed said.  

Salah Fawzi, another constitutional expert, also agrees that Article 150 of the constitution stops short of stipulating that the president must deliver a speech before parliament at its opening session.  

“This was the case under Mubarak but it was revoked in the new constitution,” said Fawzi, also agreeing that “once parliament holds its procedural opening sessions and MPs take the national oath, Al-Sisi will be keen to issue a third decree, inviting MPs to listen to a speech by him in an extraordinary meeting”.

Al-Sisi’s speech to parliament, if it is given, will be the first since he came to office in June 2014 when there was no parliament. “In his speech, Al-Sisi must review his domestic and foreign policies since he came to office, and explain his strategy for the coming period,” said Fawzi.

According to Al-Sayed, Al-Sisi’s first speech before parliament must cover crucial issues such as reviewing the economic situation in Egypt, relations with the US and Europe, growing cooperation with Russia, Egypt’s membership in a new Islamic military bloc led by Saudi Arabia, and negotiations related to Ethiopia’s building of a dam on the Nile River.  

More important than Al-Sisi’s speech is the government’s policy statement. Al-Sisi said the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, appointed in September, will stay until Ismail delivers his government’s policy statement before parliament.  

According to Article 146 of the constitution, the prime minister must deliver a policy statement before the new parliament. One month later the parliament (with a two-thirds majority) must decide whether it gives the government a vote of confidence.  

If the government fails to gain confidence from parliament, the president shall entrust the majority party or coalition to form an alternative government. If that fails, parliament would automatically be declared dissolved and new elections would be held within two months, according to Article 146.

According to the parliament’s secretary-general, Ahmed Saadeddin, MPs will elect a speaker and two deputies by casting their votes in glass containers.  

“Although an electronic voting system was installed, it will not be operated in the opening session because this will be quite difficult for many MPs to use,” said Saadeddin.

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