Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Parliamentary clout

Two political forces are competing to gain the upper hand in parliament,  Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

The internal bylaws of Egypt’s parliament – the House of Representatives – were finally passed in a plenary session on 30 March. Secretary-General Ahmed Saadeddin told reporters the 440 article bylaws are expected to be ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and issued into law this week, reports Gamal Essam El-Din.

House of Representatives speaker Ali Abdel-Al told MPs on Sunday ratification of the bylaws will be followed by the forming 25 parliamentary committees.

“The final lists of members of each committee have been prepared by the house’s secretariat-general and show that the agriculture committee will be the largest with more than one hundred members,” announced the secretariat-general.

The leading posts on each committee – chairman, two deputies and a secretary-general – will be allocated by election.

“Once the bylaws are officially ratified by the president elections for each of the 25 committees can be held,” said Abdel-Ali.

MPs who want to secure committee posts will need to join a parliamentary bloc.

“In order to win a post you will have to be a member of a large parliamentary bloc that can offer the necessary support,” says Rami Mohsen, manager of the National Centre for Parliamentary Consultancies (NCPC).

Article 97 of the new bylaws allows MPs to join ranks in parliamentary blocs, though for a parliamentary bloc to be officially recognised it must be supported by a minimum of 25 per cent of MPs drawn from at least 15 governorates.

Mohsen expects the 25 per cent stipulation to result in two political blocs being formed and officially recognised. “Both are currently trying to attract independents into their ranks,” he says.

“The largest bloc will be the Support Egypt coalition, with around 300 MPs, all of whom are broadly supportive of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s political agenda.”

Article 90 of the bylaws requires the heads of parliamentary coalitions to submit a list of MP members, together with the coalition’s governing regulations, to the house’s internal bureau (the speaker and two deputies) before the bloc is officially recognised.

Leaders of Support Egypt announced last week that the coalition’s regulations have already been drafted.

“Right now we are finalising our list of nominees for positions on parliamentary committees,” said Osama Heikal, a former minister of information and currently head of the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC).

Support Egypt’s parliamentary spokesman Alaa Abdel-Moneim told reporters on Monday that he hopes “the death of the bloc’s leader Sameh Seif Al-Yazal will not affect our performance negatively”.

Informed sources say Giza MP Saad Al-Gammal is expected to be elected new leader of the Support Egypt bloc. Al-Gammal, a onetime member of President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), served as chairman of 2005-2010 parliament’s Arab Affairs Committee.

Heikal denied that Support Egypt is a replica of the Mubarak-era NDP. “Under the NDP the election of heads of parliamentary committees was just a cosmetic procedure,” said Heikal. “In the current parliament political forces are in real competition over parliamentary committee posts.”

“Support Egypt is far from being a political party along the lines of the NDP. Its aim is simply to coordinate positions among the largest possible number of MPs on national issues that require a parliamentary consensus.”

Members of the Support Egypt coalition have nonetheless been worried by the announcement that the Free Egyptians Party, which has 65 MPs, is in the process of forming an opposition parliamentary bloc.

“The bloc – the Free Egyptians-Independent Parliamentary Alliance – will have more than 150 members drawn from political parties and the ranks of independent MPs,” says the Free Egyptians Party parliamentary spokesman Alaa Abed.

Speculation is rife that many Support Egypt MPs are considering defecting to the Free Egyptians Party’s bloc.

“Disappointed by the monopolistic practices of its leaders over the last two months many MPs who signed up to the Support Egypt coalition have now decided to leave it and join our parliamentary bloc,” claimed Abed.

Abed concedes some of those who have decided to withdraw from the Support Egypt coalition did so only after they were excluded from the list of nominees for parliamentary committees. “They have the right to withdraw, and we welcome them into our ranks,” he said.

Wafd Party spokesman Bahaeddin Abu Shakka says the partie’s 63 MPs “will not be part of any coalition”, preferring to act as “an independent bloc”.

Abed says the Free Egyptians Party does not aim to be “an adversary” to the pro-Sisi Support Egypt coalition.

“We just don’t want to see a single force dominating parliamentary business or imposing its view on all MPs. There should be a diversity of parliamentary coalitions. Diversity is not only healthy, it is essential to building a plural democracy.”

Support Egypt and the Free Egyptians both describe themselves as supporters of “moderate liberal policies”. The 25-30 coalition, on the other hand, which is largely composed of leftists, espouses the ideals of the revolutions of 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013: social justice, greater political freedoms and the building of a functioning democracy.

The 25-30 coalition includes prominent leftists Khaled Youssef, Haitham Al-Hariri, Mustafa Al-Guindi and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party’s four MPS.

Mohsen points out that though they are few in number members of the 25-30 coalition were able to rally a majority of MPs behind their rejection of the government-drafted civil service law and in support of stripping independent MP Tawfik Okasha of parliamentary membership after he met with Israel’s ambassador to Egypt.

“The creation of an officially recognised leftist parliamentary bloc would strike a balance with liberal forces. The problem is that there are too few leftists in parliament for them to gain the necessary recognition,” says Mohsen.

He argues that “real diversity in parliament can only be based on factions with different political ideologies and platforms rather than on two blocs that share similar political positions.”

Meanwhile, 25 women MPs are standing for committee posts.

Sherine Farrag, an appointed MP and IT expert, is seeking to head the Environment and Energy Committee; Anisa Essameddin Hassouna, appointed MP and the daughter of a former minister of justice, is running for the post of deputy head of the foreign affairs committee and parliamentary appointee Gehad Amr, an employee of the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ Foreign Affairs department, is seeking election as deputy head of the youth and sports committee.

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