Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Coalitions sweep Egypt’s parliament

The country’s different political forces are struggling to form coalitions ahead of the opening of Egypt’s new parliament in January, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

parliment 2015
parliment 2015
Al-Ahram Weekly

No sooner had Egypt’s long-delayed parliamentary elections concluded on 16 December than a number of political forces began announcing the formation of different parliamentary blocs.

While some have said they aim to form blocs in order to seek an influential majority, others have said the blocs are necessary for them to have a strong voice in the forthcoming parliament.

Topping the list is a bloc entitled the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition. The bloc, formed by a number of high-profile MPs, said it was about to gain the support of more than four hundred MPs or a two-thirds majority of the parliament.

Its officials have also announced that the decision of some political parties which obtained the highest number of seats in the recent elections, such as the Free Egyptians Party, not to participate has not negatively impacted their efforts.

Osama Heikal, a former minister of information and a leading Pro-Egyptian State Coalition official, told reporters that “a mix of independent and party-based MPs have already approved to join our bloc.”

 “We were surprised by some political parties announcing their rejection of joining our coalition at press conferences without informing us in an official way,” Heikal said, adding that “in any case we will go ahead in forming our bloc as we have already gained the approval of not only more than 300 independents, but also the approval of MPs who are affiliated with many political parties in the parliament.”

Heikal said the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition bloc sought to coordinate among a majority of MPs on crucial issues in the parliament, such as whether to withdraw confidence from the government or whether to endorse the state budget.

“This is the rule in all parliaments, but we by no means aim to impose our say or dominate the coming parliament,” Heikal said, warning that without such coordination and with each faction acting independently the parliament could “fall into paralysis and a political vacuum”.

Three main political parties with 70 seats in the new parliament — the Future of the Homeland, the People’s Republican, and Modern Egypt — announced this week that they had decided to join the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition.

According to Nabil Deibis, chairman of the Modern Egypt Party, “the decision came after the document regulating the performance of the coalition was revised in order for it not to act like a ruling party.”

“We approved to coordinate on crucial issues such as whether to vote for the government’s policies or not, but all members will remain free in expressing their views,” he said.

Deibis also disclosed that the approval of the different political parties to join the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition was made after they had reached an agreement on who would run for the post of parliamentary speaker, his two deputies and the heads of committees.   

Political parties which have refused to join the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition bloc — the Free Egyptians and Al-Wafd — said they had refused to join a pro-Al-Sisi bloc aiming to turn the coming parliament into a “rubber stamp forum”.

The Free Egyptians Party, a liberal force which won the largest number of seats in the elections (65 seats), has even threatened its affiliated MPs with expulsion if they break ranks and opt to join the pro-Al-Sisi bloc.

In a press conference on 14 December, the party’s spokesman Shehab Wagih said the party was in favour of political diversity and that this meant that decision-making in Egypt’s forthcoming parliament “should not be dominated by one political force”.

But Shehab admitted that the question of whether or not to join the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition had left the party with internal divisions. He said some of the party’s MPs had dissented, even opting to join the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition.

He disclosed that the Free Egyptians were currently coordinating with a large number of independent and party-based MPs, with the objective of unifying positions on a number of crucial issues in the forthcoming parliament.  

Al-Wafd, Egypt’s oldest liberal party which won 43 seats in the new parliament, also announced in a press conference on 14 December that its higher council had voted in favour of rejecting any parliamentary bloc.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shuka, Al-Wafd’s secretary-general, told reporters that the party was currently leading negotiations with liberal independents and political parties that had won seats to form a different parliamentary bloc under the title of “the Pro-Egypt Coalition.”

However, Abu Shoka said that Al-Wafd was not against the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition and that if the two blocs were able to bridge some gaps, they could finally be members of one front.

Unlike the liberal forces which seek a majority in parliament, a number of leftist minority political parties announced this week that they would form a coalition entitled “the Social Justice bloc”.

Haitham Al-Hariri, an independent MP from Alexandria, said the leftist bloc would include four political parties with eight seats: the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (5), the Progressive Tagammu Party (1), the Arab Nasserist Party (1), and the Popular Socialist Alliance (1).

“But we were also able to gain the support of different independent MPs with leftist tendencies,” Al-Hariri said.

On Saturday, parliamentary officials intervened to bar high-profile TV host and independent MP Tawfik Okasha from holding a press conference aimed at announcing the formation of a new bloc entitled “the Coalition of Independent MPs”.

Okasha told parliamentary reporters that Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati and Parliamentary Secretary-General Ahmed Saadeddin had rejected his and other independent MPs holding a press conference on a new independent MP coalition although they had been informed of it in advance.

“They said the House was not the place to hold such a press conference,” Okasha told reporters, insisting that “there is a war in political and official circles against the formation of an independent parliamentary bloc.”

Okasha told reporters that as the number of independent MPs in Egypt is 356, or 63 per cent of the parliament, they were authorised to form their own bloc so that they could speak as one influential voice in the coming parliament.

“But it seems that state and party officials do not want this bloc to be created,” he added. “The parliament now has 212 party-affiliated MPs (31 per cent), and this minority wants to impose its say on the majority,” he argued.

“Each bloc is exerting pressure on independent MPs to join its ranks, not to defend the interests of independent MPs, but only to serve the political ambitions of its leaders,” said Okasha, adding that “the last parliamentary elections were held in a democratic and transparent way and as a result the coming parliament should reflect diversity and give independents a strong voice.”

Amr Hashem Rabie, an Al-Ahram political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the disappearance of a ruling party in Egypt after two revolutions had left the parliament without a dominant force.

“As a result, you see how different blocs are trying their best to fill the political void left by the disintegration of [former president] Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party and [former president] Mohamed Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party,” Rabie said.

He argued that political rivalries and personal ambitions were an obstacle in the way of forming coherent majority parliamentary blocs. “But I think that in time and due to the necessity of having a consensus on crucial issues, we might see two or three leading blocs in the coming parliament,” Rabie said.

Okasha said that not only did independent MPs have the right to seek the formation of a bloc in Egypt’s new parliament, but as a majority they should be authorised to be in charge of at least 10 parliamentary committees.

“Independent MPs should be adequately represented in the parliament’s General Committee [which is in charge of setting the agenda of parliamentary debates and issuing crucial decisions], not to mention the Ethics Committee which is entrusted with imposing disciplinary measures on MPs.”

Egypt’s new parliament will comprise 596 MPs, the highest in the country’s modern history.

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