Monday,10 December, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)
Monday,10 December, 2018
Issue 1406, (16 - 29 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A tough year for parliament

Gamal Essam El-Din quizzes Deputy Parliament Speaker Al-Sayed Mahmoud Al-Sherif about the last session of the House of Representatives

 

A tough year for parliament
A tough year for parliament

Parliament concluded its third legislative term on 25 July. How do you evaluate the performance of MPs?

Egypt’s parliament did a very good job in its third legislative term. While security and counter-terrorism topped the agenda in the first and second sessions, this time round economic reform was the focus.

Legislation was passed to help the government pursue its reforms, phase out bureaucratic red tape and enable the country to move forward towards a better future.

Priority was given to economic laws, including developing Upper Egypt, protecting consumers and fighting monopolistic practices, upgrading bidding procedures, establishing a sovereign fund, regulating the performance of nuclear power stations, and streamlining bankruptcy procedures. Parliament passed 197 laws in total, the highest ever in the country’s parliamentary history.

Parliament includes 596 MPs, more than ever before. These are deputies from different political backgrounds. We have 350 independent MPs, and the remainder are affiliated to 17 political parties. It was wonderful that Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal was able to create common ground among such a wide variety of MPs so they could reach agreement on several controversial issues.

 

How do you view media coverage of parliament?

Since it was elected in January 2016 parliament has faced hostile media campaigns which propagated malicious rumours and portrayed the House of Representatives as a rubber stamp. Thankfully, the national media defended parliament against these attacks and painted an objective picture of the House’s performance and its achievements.

We were aware of the malicious campaigns and were honest in informing the public of parliament’s activities.

 

Parliament concluded its third legislative season by giving the government of newly-appointed Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli a vote of confidence. Some leftist MPs attacked the motion, however…

Parliament took time to discuss the government’s policy statement and gave it a vote of confidence only after most MPs concluded it would help the country reap the fruits of the economic reforms which began in late 2016. Parliament used all the supervisory tools available to review the government’s programme. In our response we insisted the government present MPs with a balance sheet and a quarterly progress report on the implementation of its programme.

Generally speaking, I feel optimistic because the government’s policies display a strong political will to build a “modern Egypt” in terms of clear-cut plans and projects, and the outgoing government of prime minister Sherif Ismail was able to prepare the ground for this.

 

What is the difference between the governments of Sherif Ismail and Mustafa Madbouli?

The government of Sherif Ismail came at a crucial time. It was appointed in September 2015, and a month later the Russian passenger plane crashed in Sinai, harming the tourist sector and the wider economy. The tragic incident left Egypt with a severe shortage of foreign exchange. The Sherif Ismail government was able to successfully implement a historic agreement with the IMF, stabilise Egypt’s economic foundations and create a favourable investment climate.

The role of the government of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli is to build on Ismail government’s achievements. It has to make Egypt a more attractive country for foreign investment and compensate poor and limited-income classes for the burdens they have incurred because of austerity measures and economic reforms. Madbouli’s government promised MPs it would improve health and education services. It also intends to implement the national insurance law which was passed by parliament in its outgoing session and covers all Egyptians, and to reform religious discourse.

But your report on the Madbouli government’s policy statement and programme warned of challenges ahead?

This is true. There are three challenges ahead the government must tackle: controlling the informal economy, defusing the population bomb and reforming the state’s administration.

The policy statement said the informal economy will be integrated into the national economy within five years and that serious steps will be taken to eliminate tax evasion. It also said there will be a new strategy on birth control.

 

Some think that administrative sector reform means large numbers of public employees being made redundant…

The policy statement, as presented to parliament, said the government aims to reform the state’s administrative apparatus within four years, modernising its activities, injecting young blood into its offices and implementing the new Civil Service law. It mentioned nothing at all about state employees being dismissed.

 

Some MPs claim the administrative sector includes Muslim Brotherhood supporters who are undermining reform efforts. Do you agree?

Yes. There are malicious elements that oppose any kind of administrative reform. The government has to do more to rid the sector of red-tape and corruption.

And what about the reductions in subsidies?

This is a crucial issue. In-kind subsidies should be phased out and replaced by cash which is directed to the most needy.

 

You visited the United States last month. How do you think the world views Egypt’s economic reform programme?

During my visit to the United States I was impressed to find many politicians and Congress members were aware of Egypt’s economic and legislative reforms. They think the economic reform agreement with the IMF was a bold step that has helped curb inflation, double foreign exchange reserves, restructure the energy sector, boost private sector investment and implement a network of social protection programmes.

 

What about the issue of human rights?

While Egypt waged a ferocious battle against terrorist groups some foreign human rights organisations were doing their best to tarnish Egypt’s image in Western circles, particularly in the US. The political leadership is now giving top priority to standing up to these foreign attacks.

We need to do more in terms of teaching human rights in schools and universities. For its part, parliament will discuss important legislative amendments such as setting up an anti-discrimination commission, and drafting a freedom of information law.

 

Has Egypt achieved stability following its battle with terrorist groups?

The wave of terrorism has largely receded, and Egypt has paid dearly to achieve this. Hundreds of policemen and soldiers lost their lives to rid their country of terrorism and every Egyptian should appreciate their heroism and sacrifice.

 

Is it true that in its response to the government’s policy statement, parliament asked that the budget of Armed Forces and the Interior Ministry be increased?

There was a semi-consensus among MPs that the state should give every possible financial support to the Armed Forces and the police. MPs also heaped praise on the army’s counter-terrorism operation in Sinai which aims to rid the peninsula of all terrorist elements. But MPs also agreed that security measures must be complemented with reforming religious discourse in mosques and the curriculum in schools and measures to prevent extremists from using the media and the Internet to spread their venomous ideologies and perverted interpretations of Islam.

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