Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

House rules

MPs are gearing up for a stormy debate on new bylaws regulating the conduct of parliament, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

Bahaaeddin Abu Shukka, secretary-general of the Wafd Party and chairman of the 25-member committee in charge of amending the House of Representatives’ internal regulations, says the committee has finished its work and a draft of bylaws will be ready to be debated by the House on 13 February.

Following a seven-hour meeting on Sunday, attended by House of Representatives Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, Abu Shukka told parliamentary reporters the committee will be ready to ratify a draft of bylaws on Tuesday or Wednesday, allowing them to be put to MPs on Saturday.

After being endorsed by the House the internal bylaws will be referred to the State Council for revision, said Free Egyptians Party spokesperson Ayman Abul-Ela. “Article 190 of the constitution requires the State Council to review all legislative bills before they become law. Its recommendations are advisory rather than binding,” he said.

The draft of internal bylaws, described by Abul-Ela as “a democratic step that will enhance parliament’s supervisory and legislative powers and democratize the process of its internal decision-making”, is expected to be subject to heated debate when it is referred to MPs.

One of the most controversial articles sets conditions for the official recognition of parliamentary blocs. “The new bylaws stipulate that parliamentary blocs must contain at least 120 MPs from at least 15 governorates to be recognised by the House,” said Abu Shuka.

The Salafist Nour Al-Nour opposes the article. “We believe the number of MPs required to form a bloc should be lowered from 20 per cent of the total to five or ten per cent,” said Nour Party MP Ahmed Al-Sherif.

MPs are also divided over whether the number of parliamentary committees should be increased from 19 to 26 or 28. Committee members favour the higher figure, which would allow existing sub-committees to become autonomous, said Abu Shukka.

The committee’s draft recommends the creation of five new committees and autonomy for three existing subcommittees.

“New committees will cover African affairs, small- and micro-scale enterprises, transparency and integrity in public life, telecommunications and technology and the higher education and scientific research. Existing committees covering culture, media and tourism will become independent, and industry and energy and health and environment will both be separated into two,” said Abu Shukka.

Osama Heikal, former information minister and current chairman of the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC), opposes the increase in the number of committees, arguing that it will make too much work for the parliament. “The number of committees they are talking about is far too high. It will end in a mess,” said Heikal.

MPs also differ over the powers that should be exercised by the speaker. According to Abu Shuka, the draft bylaws allow the speaker to penalize MPs who do not abide by the rules of parliamentary debates.

“The draft allows the speaker discretion in disciplining MPs. He can prevent unruly MPs from taking the floor, direct rebukes at them or bar them from attending sittings. All such decisions will require the approval of the House,” said Abu Shuka.

Many independent MPs had assumed the speaker’s powers would be phased out rather than boosted. “It is a big setback to grant the speaker greater powers at a time when we are talking about the importance of democratising the process of decision-making in Egypt’s new parliament,” said Tawfik Okasha, an independent MP and the owner of Al-Faraeen TV channel.

The draft bylaws also stipulate that MPs can be stripped of parliamentary immunity at the request of any court reviewing a criminal case implicating the MP. The current bylaws limit requests stripping MPs of parliamentary immunity to the Higher Council of Judges.

On Sunday, MPs voted down requests to strip three MPs of immunity. Abdel-Aal told the House that the requests had been submitted by lawyers. This led journalist and independent MP Abdel-Reheim Ali to issue a rebuke to Abdel-Aal and the House of Representatives’ secretary-general, Ahmed Saaeddin. “Given that the requests were not submitted by the prosecutor-general or the justice minister they should not have been opened to debate in the first place,” said Ali.

Reform and Development Party head Anwar Al-Sadat warned that the majority of requests submitted by lawyers were malicious and aimed only at tarnishing the image of MPs. “The new bylaws should ban any lifting of immunity requests submitted by lawyers, who generally act on behalf of those pursuing their own political agendas,” said Sadat.

The draft bylaws, said Abu Shukka, recommend lawyers retain the right to file immunity requests but requires that they be reviewed by the House’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee. Military courts will be allowed to submit requests only in the case of MPs suspected of committing a military offence.

Abu Shukka also disclosed that the new bylaws recommend establishing a Parliamentary Training Institute “offering Egyptian parliamentarians intensive training in parliamentary affairs”.

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