Friday,23 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Friday,23 February, 2018
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Speaking to the House

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi adopted a conciliatory tone in his first parliamentary address, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

After a year and half in office and amid tight security, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi visited the Egypt’s newly elected parliament on 13 February to deliver a long-awaited speech.

Most MPs agree that Al-Sisi took a conciliatory line in his 32-minute speech. Leftist MP Haytham Al-Hariri told Al-Ahram Weekly that while Al-Sisi had expressed dissatisfaction with parliament’s rejection of the Civil Service Law just two weeks ago, the president did not raise the issue in his speech.

“Instead,” said Al-Hariri, “Al-Sisi stressed that it is now up to parliament to exercise the legislative powers in the hands of the president since January 2014.”

Al-Sisi told MPs, “Today I declare before MPs the transition of legislative authority to a democratically elected parliament ... I hope that you will exercise this power in the interests of our great nation.”

 Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati told reporters this week that the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail will redraft the Civil Service Law, taking into account the objections of MPs.

“We are not on a collision course with parliament and will settle the issue very soon,” said Al-Agati.

Nor did Al-Sisi comment on last week’s confrontation between the Interior Ministry and the Doctors Syndicate. In the wake of an assault by policemen on doctors at East Cairo’s Al-Matariya Hospital, the Doctors Syndicate, supported by many MPs, has roundly criticised the Interior Ministry for turning a blind eye to abused committed by policemen.

Instead, Al-Sisi heaped praise on the military and police for “their heroic role in fighting terrorism and protecting the country from chaos”.

 “At the forefront of those fighting a ferocious wave of terrorist acts that aim to undermine the Egyptian state and spread chaos and subversion are the soldiers and police who sacrificed their lives to break the back of terrorism in the Nile Delta, in Sinai and on the western borders,” Al-Sisi told MPs.

“While it was expected Al-Sisi would not use his speech to take sides on controversial issues such as the Civil Service Law, it was less understandable that the president chose not to address crucial issues such as the impact of Ethiopia’s new Renaissance Dam on Egypt’s annual quota of Nile water, relations with America, the current economic situation in Egypt and the tidal wave of criticism being levelled at Egypt’s record on human rights,” said Al-Hariri.

When an independent MP called out “What about the Renaissance dam?” during Al-Sisi’s speech, the president simply carried on with his text.

Analyst Abdallah Al-Sinnawi complained that the speech failed to set “a clear vision of the future”.

Said Al-Sinnawi, “The president’s annual speech before parliament should take as its model the US president’s State of the Union speech. It should offer the a detailed view of the domestic and foreign challenges facing Egypt, especially after revolutions toppled two presidents in just two years. Al-Sisi’s speech was very sketchy about the future of democracy in Egypt.”

MP Ali Al-Moselhi, a former minister of social solidarity, told the Weekly, “Al-Sisi’s speech was kept deliberately short.”

 He continued, “It was to the point, covering democracy, terrorism, social justice, economic conditions and foreign policy while avoiding redundant rhetoric. I think Al-Sisi opted for brevity to allow details to be fleshed out in the government’s policy statement scheduled for the end of this month or in early March.”

Al-Sisi told MPs that the election of a new parliament showed the world that Egyptians are determined to build a democratic nation and “stand firm against reactionary forces”.

The president added, “The existence of a free parliament is important but it is equally important that MPs exercise their powers responsibly and democratically, without grandstanding, and avoiding political rivalries that do not serve the nation’s interests.”

“Al-Sisi’s underlining of parliament’s legislative mandate shows that he is keen not to return to Mubarak-era autocracy. He does not want a rubber-stamp parliament,” argued Al-Moselhi.

Al-Moselhi also praised the president’s remarks on opening a political dialogue with young people.

“These are the people who led the two evolutions and it was right that the president devote a substantial portion of his speech to them,” said Al-Moselhi.

After declaring 2016 “the year of our youth”, Al-Sisi went on to announce plans to implement a national project supporting small- and micro-scale enterprises. “The project will receive LE600 billion in funding and focus on income-generating schemes for young people,” said Al-Sisi.

 “Al-Sisi also vowed to use his constitutional powers to release more young political activists from jail,” said Al-Moselhi.

“We have begun a very serious dialogue with young people from different sectors to identify their problems and hopes for the future,” Al-Sisi told MPs.

Al-Moselhi contradicted Al-Sinnawi’s assertion that the president had skipped over foreign policy.

“Al-Sisi’s speech was full of details in this respect,” he said. “After taking the Muslim Brotherhood regime to task for distorting Egypt’s relations with many countries, especially in the Arab world, he boasted that in a year and half Egypt had been able to restore the world’s confidence and build new bridges.”

 “Not only have we restored strong relations with Africa and the Arab world but we won a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council,” Al-Sisi told MPs. “Egypt is the current president of the Arab summit and is representing Africa at the international conference on climate change.

“Eighteen months ago no one imagined Egyptian diplomacy would make such progress in such a short period of time.”

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