Friday,20 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Friday,20 October, 2017
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Law backlog awaits parliament

Parliament reconvenes next week to grapple with a host of draft laws, ranging from illegal migration to investment and press regulation. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following a one-month summer recess, Egypt’s parliament — the House of Representatives — will on Sunday open the second session of its five-year term. After an opening procedural sitting on 4 October, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal urged deputies to keep a close watch on the government and actively examine all draft laws submitted to parliament.

After reading out a presidential decree that asked parliament to reconvene, Abdel-Aal vowed that parliament will stand firm against any attempts to disrupt the nation’s internal security and stability. “This requires that we all – MPs and cabinet ministers – join hands and seize the coming session to improve the lives of citizens,” said Abdel-Aal, indicating that “legislating will be a cornerstone of parliament’s performance in the second session”.

Abdel-Aal argued that “although the first session was short, parliament was able to achieve a lot. It passed a good number of important legislation, but we still have a lot to discuss in the new session to be up to the expectations of all Egyptians,” said Abdel-Aal.

“Although there is no doubt that the government is doing a lot, it still has a lot of obstacles that stand in its way. Our job as Egypt’s parliament is to help the government surmount these obstacles because the constitution states that we are all partners in one nation.”

Abdel-Aal disclosed that the government intends to send parliament a number of draft laws on the economy, investment, the election of local councils, the creation of a national election commission, and the regulation of the media, Abdel-Aal said.

In particular, Abdel-Aal stressed that a number of media regulatory bills will be submitted to parliament “very soon. I think we will be able within the next few weeks to discuss a host of new laws that aim to put an end to the media chaos in this country”.

Topping the list, Abdel-Aal said, is a new draft law on the creation of the Syndicate of Media Workers. “This draft law states that those who seek to work as journalists must meet all the necessary requirements in this respect,” said Abdel-Aal. “Those who aim to appear on television screens will be required to meet all the conditions stipulated by this draft law.”

“This law,” argued Abdel-Aal, “will help put an end to chaos in the Media City and eliminate private television channels which promote this chaos.”

Abdel-Aal faced a wave of attacks from some private television channels, with most of them accusing him of turning parliament into “a rubber stamp institution”. He said he would never respond to the attacks, vowing that the new media laws will put an end to such kinds of TV channels.

In its one-day sitting on 4 October, parliament also passed a controversial civil service law which it had approved in July but was referred to State Council for revision. As many as 401 MPs approved the law, while 26 MPs rejected it and six abstained. The law, which was referred to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for ratification and publishing in the official gazette, aims to reform civil service and regulate the performance of around 6.3 million employees in state departments and public authorities.

The law was modified to increase annual salaries of state and government employees from five to seven per cent. It also stipulates that those applying for a civil service job must pass a tough interview and that they should not be less than 18 years old.

Parliament also provisionally approved a new law that aims to tackle illegal immigration. It comes after a migrant boat carrying hundreds of illegal migrants capsized off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast on 21 September.

Bahaa Abu Shoka, head of parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee, told MPs that the law stiffens penalties on criminal gangs which traffic migrants illegally against hefty payments. “It imposes fines between LE50,000 and LE500,000 and prison sentences ranging from six months to life imprisonment,” said Abu Shoka. It also establishes a national anti-illegal immigration and human trafficking commission to help combat illegal migration.

Meanwhile, MPs agreed that press and media laws must receive priority in the coming stage. Ahmed Hanteesh, spokesman of the Conservatives Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he agrees with Abdel-Aal that media laws have become a necessity to rid Egypt of media chaos. “These laws have become necessary because they aim to regulate the performance of both public and private media for the first time,” said Hanteesh, adding that “these laws must also impose a code of ethics so that these media outlets cannot embrace anti-Egypt agendas”.

Abdel-Aal indicated that the unified press law, which is being revised by the state council, will be at the top of parliament’s priorities. “We hope that the State Council will finish revising this draft law as soon as possible because it will need a lot of debate that might take more than a year,” Abdel-Aal said.

Mustafa Bakri, an independent MP and editor of the Al-Osbou newspaper, told the Weekly that “the unified press law has become highly important because it aims to address the worsening financial and administrative situation in national press organisations, not to mention that most of the board chairmen of these organisations have reached the age of retirement and it will be illegal for them to continue working much longer”.

Akmal Qortam, head of the Conservatives Party, indicated that local council elections should also take priority in the new parliamentary session. “This law is necessary because it can send a new message that Egypt has become stable enough to hold such elections,” Qortam said.

Qortam said new laws on investment incentives and small-scale enterprises are also important. “If parliament decided to toughen penalties on illegal migration, it must also discuss new laws that should promote investment and help create jobs among young people who spend a lot of money to migrate to Europe illegally.”

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