Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Focus on the economy

The Free Egyptians Party clarifies its parliamentary agenda, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Free Egyptian Party (FEP), winner of the highest number of seats among political parties in parliamentary elections, says it is preparing a raft of new legislation focussing on economic and political reform. The party held its general elections last Thursday, giving party leader Essam Khalil a new term.

“We are working on new laws that will introduce social and economic policies capable of fighting poverty,” said Alaa Abed, the FEP parliament bloc leader. “We are seeking to create new jobs by improving the investment climate. We want to offer support to entrepreneurs and promote a wholesale shake-up of the public sector.”

The FEP issued a statement called for the new House of Representatives to revise 300 laws issued by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi since 18 January 2014. The statement gave a detailed timeframe for discussion of 170 laws by 12 parliamentarian committees that should be approved by 18 January.

“Since his election as president, Al-Sisi has approved 700 laws, including the annual budget, of which we have identified 170 in need of urgent revision and approval,” read the statement.

“Reviewing legislation issued by the executive authority in the absence of parliament is the house’s most urgent task,” said Abed. Legislation identified for revision by the FEP includes the state budget, investment laws, regulation of the informal sector and anti-corruption laws. The party’s priorities also include national security and defence, and policies relating to industry, energy, education and health.

Article 156 of the constitution stipulates that decrees issued by the president in the absence of parliament must be approved by the house within 15 days of the inaugural session of the newly elected House of Representatives.

“The challenge facing political parties is to team up and finish the task as soon as possible. We want parliament to have a strong impact on the political and economic system. The people expect us to act and help the government build a new Egypt,” said FEP Deputy Chairman Ayman Abul Ela.

The coming parliamentary session will be an important test for the FEP which must show it can make a positive contribution to the political system, said political commentator Akram Al-Alfy.

“The FEP was established after the 25 January Revolution. It has emerged as the only party with sufficient resources to appeal to the electorate in all of Egypt’s governorates but question marks remain over its ability to serve its constituents, and it lacks any real experience when it comes to parliamentary affairs.”

The FEP was founded to support the principles of a liberal, democratic and secular political order. In its mission statement, the party identified its main aim as the promotion of economic and social development “to create a nation in which civil rights and equality of duties prevail free from any form of religious, gender, ethnic or social discrimination.”

The party’s programme stresses free market principles but also calls for the state to take responsibility for national projects. The FEP, which is bankrolled by Coptic business tycoon Naguib Sawiris, is pro-business and has called for the complete separation of religion and the state.

“Many people believe the party was established to represent Christians in Egypt. This is erroneous. What the FEP represents are the interests of Egyptian capitalism,” said Alfy.

The FEP’s core agenda, argued Alfy, is to enshrine free market laws covering investment, the stock market and taxation. He added, however, that “it will take years for the party to press ahead with its goals.”

“The new parliament must first revive the economy from the setbacks it suffered following the 2011 Revolution,” said FEP spokesperson Shehab Wagih.

“We have some of the best economists in Egypt and their expertise will be at the disposal of the new parliament as it seeks to introduce laws capable of promoting economic and social development.”

FEP party leaders, said Wagih, believe building a strong economy is the only way to tackle the problems faced by ordinary citizens.

“The draft law on medical insurance is a good example of what is happening. If it is approved in its current form it will increase government spending without providing Egyptians with the health care they need. That is why we urged the government to wait until parliament is in session to discuss it further.”

According to Wagih, the FEP is also determined to push for social policies that protect the most vulnerable groups in society.

“We want to introduce programmes like the conditional cash transfer, which has been implemented by many countries to great advantage,” said Wagih.

Under the programme, the poorest families would receive a monthly stipend in exchange for sending their children to school and stopping them from being used as child labour.

“The FEP may have announced an ambitious economic agenda but turning this into reality will take more than proposals,” said Alfy. “Let’s not forget that the FEP controls just 65 seats. To make good on its promises it will have to persuade a coalition of other forces to back its proposals.”

Alfy believes party leaders will face a difficult task overcoming internal divisions, which surfaced recently in the controversy over joining the Pro-Egyptian State Coalition. The party’s leadership refused the move, only to be defied by some of its newly elected MPs.

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