Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1277, (7 - 13 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Battling for control of the House

When the House of Representatives holds its inaugural sitting on Sunday it will do so in the absence of a ruling party, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

After three years of political turmoil, and following the conclusion of a two-month election process, a new parliament, the House of Representatives, is due to hold its procedural sitting on 10 January.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati says the opening session may well continue into Monday given “the unprecedented number of MPs — 596 — each of whom is obliged to read out the oath.”

“It is likely a second procedural sitting will have to be convened to elect a speaker and two deputies,” he said.

Bahaaeddin Abu Shuka, secretary-general of Wafd Party and an appointed MP, has been selected to head the opening procedural sitting.

“Abu Shuka is 77 years old. He will chair the session in his capacity as the most senior parliamentarian,” said Al-Agati.

“This is a parliament without a majority ruling party, the first since the 1952 revolution,” points out Al-Ahram political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb.

“Under Nasser, the Arab Socialist Union dominated parliamentary life. Under Sadat and Mubarak it was the National Democratic Party (NDP). And then the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party took over when Mubarak was forced from office.”

Now 19 political parties are represented in parliament and none of them has an absolute majority.

“While the vast majority of political factions espouse a liberal, free market ideology, they have expressed different political positions and are riddled with personal rivalries,” said Abu Taleb.

A report prepared by parliament’s secretariat-general lists the four liberal political parties — the Free Egyptians, Future of Homeland, Wafd and Reform and Development — which won the lion’s share, 157, of seats occupied by party representatives. Another nine political parties with links to the now-defunct NDP control 68 seats between them. The Salafist Nour Party secured 11 seats, and five left-leaning parties won nine seats between them.

Party representatives are heavily outnumbered by the 351 MPs who stood as independent candidates, a fact that is likely to lead to heavy bouts of horse-trading.

“As the constitution stipulates that some issues cannot be decided without the approval of a two-thirds majority we can expect to see to political factions making strenuous efforts to forge powerful coalitions and blocs,” said Abu Taleb.

The manoeuvring has already begun. Led by former intelligence officer Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, the “Pro-Egyptian State Coalition”, a grouping of MPs who have vowed to back the political and economic agenda of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, was trying to win the backing of a majority in the House.

Coalition officials say they already have the support of 380 MPs, 18 short of an absolute majority. “But we have high hopes that another 20 MPs, mostly independents, will join us,” said Seif Al-Yazal.

An early indication of the way the political cards have fallen in the House of Representatives will be the election of the speaker. Seif Al-Yazal predicts constitutional law professor Ali Abdel-Al will get the post.

Abdel-Al’s name shot to the top of the list of candidates after former interim president and the incumbent chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court Adli Mansour refused an offer by Al-Sisi to be appointed to parliament. Mansour, who said he preferred to retain his position at the top of the country’s highest constitutional authority, would have been one of the 28 MPs appointed by the president in accordance with Article 102 of the constitution.

The list of 28 presidential appointees, issued on 31 December 2015, did include one senior judge, Sirri Siam, a former chairman of the Court of Cassation and of the Higher Council for Judges. But Siam has said he has no intention of standing for the post of the speaker and would prefer to be chosen as chairman of the parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

A second presidential appointee, Bahaaeddin Abu Shuka, secretary-general of the Wafd Party and a leading lawyer, also said he has no intention of standing for the job of speaker.

“I have already been selected as the Wafd Party’s parliamentary spokesman and I am also considering standing for the post of chairman of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee,” said Abu Shuka.

In a recent TV interview, Seif Al-Yazal said the two elected MPs who have announced they will run for the post of speaker — TV host Tawfik Okasha and former president of Al-Azhar University Osama Al-Abd — lack any real support among MPs, meaning that “Abdel-Al is most likely to be elected.”

Abdel-Al, 69, is emeritus professor of constitutional law at Ain Shams University. He was elected to parliament as part of the For the Love of Egypt list, which was coordinated by Seif Al-Yazal.

Abdel-Al first came to prominence in 2013 when interim president Mansour selected him to be a member of the committee entrusted with revising a new constitution. In June 2014 Al-Sisi appointed Abdel-Al to the legislative reform committee that oversaw the vetting of new political and economic laws.

In 2015 Abdel-Al headed the committee that drafted the exercise of political rights, the House of Representatives affairs and the division of electoral constituencies laws.

After winning a seat in the first round of parliamentary polls in October, Abdel-Al told reporters that the relationship between parliament and the president should be based on cooperation rather than confrontation. “I also want to stress that the For the Love of Egypt Coalition will be a back-up force for President Al-Sisi in the coming parliament,” he said.

Abdel-Al has argued that Article 156 of the constitution, which many experts say obliges parliament to vote on all laws passed since the removal of Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013 within 15 days of sitting, in fact applies to just 10, or possibly 15 laws issued to deal with matters deemed urgent.

Abdel-Al’s position contrasts sharply with that of Al-Agati.

“Article 156 makes it binding on parliament to discuss all laws passed since the removal of Morsi within 15 days of the opening procedural sitting next Sunday,” Al-Agati told Al-Ahram newspaper on 1 January.

“This is one of the major challenges facing new parliament. As long as we agree that the post-Morsi laws and decree, numbering 292, have to be debated within 15 days, we can differ about how the debate is conducted.”

Al-Agati has proposed that once elected the new speaker should entrust the task of debating the 292 laws and decrees to parliament’s 19 committees which could report back to the house within a matter of days, which “will be enough to meet the requirements imposed by Article 156 of the constitution.”

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