Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1313, (29 september - 5 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Committed factions

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee is split into two camps ahead of the new parliamentary session, reports Gamal Essam El-Din 

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The House of Representatives begins its second legislative session on Tuesday following a month-long summer recess.

Article 115 of the 2014 constitution stipulates that each of parliament’s five legislative sessions must be at least nine months.

In a press conference on Sunday, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati said the new session will see key bills to tackle illegal migration, regulate the press and secure transitional justice. He also disclosed that the government will submit a report on its own performance since winning a vote of confidence in March.

“The report will review the government’s measures to support those on low-incomes, boost tourist traffic to Egypt and improve public services,” said Al-Agati.

Elections to parliament’s 25 committees will be postponed for two weeks. Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal has told MPs the polls will only be held “after the celebration marking parliament’s 150-year history is held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al-Sheikh on 9 October”.

The delay has not prevented rival camps on parliament’s 38-member human rights committee from engaging in a war of words. On 22 September a statement was issued by the committee’s First Deputy Chairman Atef Makhaleef, Second Deputy Margaret Azer and Secretary-General Mahmoud Mohieddin dismissing “allegations that security restrictions were imposed on the committee’s work in the first legislative season. “These allegations are entirely unfounded. Senior officials in the Ministries of Interior, Health, Education, Foreign Affairs, Justice, Immigration and Social Solidarity, and from the National Council of Human Rights were keen to attend the committee’s meetings and answer MPs’ questions,” read the statement.

“Senior officials from the Ministry of Interior in particular were happy to come to the committee whenever invited to respond to questions and complaints raised by ordinary citizens about security policies.”

“We strongly deny all claims that the committee came under pressure from government institutions not to do its job freely.”

Anwar Al-Sadat resigned as chairman of the committee on 30 August, accusing the speaker and his pro-government colleagues of not doing enough to help the committee fulfill its mandate of overseeing the performance of Interior Ministry and ensuring human rights are respected.

In his resignation statement Sadat claimed Abdel-Aal’s lack of cooperation had prevented the committee from discussing allegations against the Interior Ministry of forced disappearances and torture in prison cells and police stations.

Prior to Al-Sadat’s resignation Abdel-Aal had accused him of exploiting his position to serve a Western inspired human rights agenda. He also complained that Al-Sadat had complained about Egypt’s parliament “to an international institution with the intention of tarnishing the image of Egypt” and threatened to hold a closed-door meeting to investigate Al-Sadat.

Al-Sadat said the pro-government camp’s statement is an attempt to intimidate him from standing for the post of Human Rights Committee head in the forthcoming session. He told reporters that just as human rights in Egypt have become an international concern and “the United Nations Human Rights Council has issued a report attacking the government’s restrictive measures against civil society organisations, the security apparatus is weakening the role of parliament’s Human Rights Committee in reviewing the actions of the Interior Ministry”.

“In the first parliamentary session the Human Rights Committee was repeatedly prevented from responding to reports addressing Egypt’s human rights record issued by foreign organisations,” complained Al-Sadat.

He praised President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s recent trip to the United States during which “he was keen to talk about Egypt’s human rights record with American officials, with US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and with the US media”.

“Parliament’s Human Rights Committee had long wanted to do the same – issuing reports with clear facts and figures about human rights in Egypt – but we were not allowed to do so. The Interior Ministry and security apparatuses refused to provide clear details on the situation of human rights in Egypt and instead opted to describe its critics as ‘traitors and clients of foreign powers’.”

While Al-Sadat says he has not taken a final decision on whether he will seek re-election Mahmoud Makhaleef, the committee’s deputy chairman and Al-Sadat’s main rival, has stated publicly that he wants to head the committee in the new legislative season.

“Al-Sadat did a very bad job. Instead of discussing human rights from a national point of view he insisted on pursuing the agenda of radical Western organisations like Human Rights Watch (HRW),” said Makhaleef.

Margaret Azer, the committee’s deputy chairman, says she intends to stand for re-election to her current post

Azer insists that though she signed the anti-Sadat statement she should not be considered a member of the committee’s pro-government camp.

“Al-Sadat did a good job and he tried his best to energise the committee’s work.  He should be branded a traitor simply for meeting with representatives of foreign human rights organisations and attending international conferences on human rights,” said Azer.

Two MPs from rival political parties — Akmal Qortam, chairman of the Conservative Party, and Alaa Abed, parliamentary spokesman of the Free Egyptian Party — have also announced they will stand while the pro-government parliamentary coalition “Support Egypt” has announced it will hold a meeting next week to select its own candidate for the chair of the Human Rights Committee.

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