Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

House with teeth

Parliament’s rejection of the Civil Service Law proves that it includes a number of opposition MPs who have the power to change the course of debates, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has expressed his dissatisfaction with parliament’s rejection of a controversial law aimed at reforming the civil service.

He made the remarks during a speech at Egypt’s Police Academy on 23 January to mark National Police Day. It was the first criticism the president has directed at the House since it convened on 10 January.

Reaction was quick. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati was keen to indicate that the president’s dissatisfaction does not mean that he and the new parliament are on a collision course.

“MPs were under huge popular pressure to reject this law and we fully understand this,” said Al-Agati. “The government will do its best to amend the law in a way that wins the approval of MPs.”

The rejection of the law, however, was hailed in parliamentary and independent media circles as an early indication that Egypt’s new parliament will not be a rubber-stamp institution. Most political analysts agreed that a number of MPs, mostly leftist, were able to gather support from colleagues from various political parties to reject the law.

“Although the number of leftist MPs in this House are quite few (nine MPs or 1.5 per cent), they were quite efficient in mobilising a wide range of independent and party-based MPs to vote down the law,” said Al-Ahram political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb.

Abu Taleb believes that most of the early critical assessments that the new parliament would be weak and compliant are proving unfounded. “By contrast, the first two weeks of debates showed that the new parliament is largely different from the ones Egypt used to have under the Mubarak regime,” said Abu Taleb. “While most MPs in the new parliament are aware that they are closely watched by the media, they are also keen to live up to the people’s expectations.”

Ahead of debating the Civil Service Law in a plenary session on 20 January, leftist MPs, led by Alexandria’s independent Haitham Al-Hariri, ramped up support from many MPs to reject the law. Al-Hariri, the son of former leftist MP Abul-Ezz Al-Hariri, and four other MPs affiliated with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party distributed leaflets among MPs, urging them to reject the law on the grounds that it would affect the lives of millions of state employees.

“The credibility of this new parliament would be seriously compromised among a big sector of Egyptian society if we fail to pass the first test and approve the law,” the leaflet said.

Al-Hariri’s distribution of leftist leaflets was heavily criticised by parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal and the flamboyant independent MP, Mortada Mansour.

Mansour lashed out at Al-Hariri and other leftist MPs, describing them as “parliamentary novices”. Said Mansour, “We are not here in a metro car or in a student union to have these leaflets. I think the right place for them is in the trash can.”

“Distribution of leaflets among MPs insults parliament and represents a constitutional offence,” said speaker Abdel-Aal.

The final vote on the law, however, showed that Abdel-Aal and Mansour had failed to influence MPs, who voted 468 to 332 against the law.

Al-Hariri told Al-Ahram Weekly that he fully understood President Al-Sisi’s dissatisfaction with the Civil Service Law being voted down in parliament. “We stand in support of reform of the civil service but this should not come at the expense of social justice and the interests of limited income state employees,” Al-Hariri said.

“The president has the right to express his views about parliamentary performance but he should not be allowed to interfere in parliamentary affairs because this could push us back to the Mubarak-style parliaments.”

In his speech, Al-Sisi said that although he did not want to interfere in parliamentary affairs, he was also keen to urge MPs to further study the issue “for the sake of the coming generations”.

Abu Taleb believes that although the conflict over the Civil Service Law between Al-Sisi and the government on one side and parliament on the other can be easily contained, it again sends an early signal of division. “We can see more conflicts between the two sides in the future over another list of controversial issues, such as the government policy statement.

“What is important now is that we should have a powerful parliament and a president who is keen to find common ground with this parliament rather than meddle in its affairs.”

But opposition in Egypt’s new parliament is not confined to a few leftist MPs. Another group of independent deputies also look determined to be anti-government, albeit not anti-regime. Topping the list is high-profile media figure Tawfik Okasha, Mansour and journalist Mustafa Bakri.

Okasha began his parliamentary career by running for the post of parliament speaker. After receiving only 25 votes, he chose to launch scathing attacks against elected speaker Abdel-Aal, describing him an “old guard” constitutional law professor who would do his best to ensure that parliament tows the president’s line.

Okasha also opened fire on the pro-government parliamentary bloc Support Egypt. He was also the first to join Al-Hariri and other leftist MPs in slamming the Civil Service Law, urging MPs to reject it.

Mansour, who is also president of Zamalek Sporting Club, chose to adopt an opposition line from the beginning. In parliament’s first procedural sitting, on 10 January, he caused an uproar when he blasted the 2011 Revolution as anti-Mubarak and refused to read out the national oath, which praises the revolt.

Mansour, who was an independent MP in the 2000-2005 parliament, vowed to open all corruption files against state officials. He also strongly criticised the way in which 342 presidential decrees were passed in parliament’s first few week. “We did not discuss these decrees as stipulated by the constitution. We were really rubber-stamping them,” Mansour told speaker Abdel-Aal.

Although Mansour criticised the distribution of political leaflets among MPs, he joined the chorus of MPs who shot down the Civil Service Law.

According to Mansour, the government should first meet MP demands concerning the law before it is finally passed. He also sharply criticised the pro-Al-Sisi coalition, describing it as “another of Mubarak’s ruling party” and saying that its head, former intelligence officer Sameh Seif Al-Yazal, is another Ahmed Ezz, the business tycoon who was the right-hand man of Mubarak’s youngest son and heir-apparent, Gamal Mubarak.

Abu Taleb, however, worries that the opposition led by independent MPs might be more motivated by personal interests than national objectives. “I hope that they are real opposition figures and that they direct criticism out of national interest, not because they were not allowed to join the pro-Al-Sisi coalition,” Abu Taleb said.

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