Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1217, (16 - 22 October 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The politics of investment

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi urges the legislative reform committee to speed up its work. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

The politics of investment
The politics of investment
Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, who heads the legislative reform committee tasked with ensuring Egypt’s political and economic laws conform with the new constitution, announced that amending investment laws remained his government’s priority.

“We want to make investment laws in Egypt friendlier and more attractive, especially ahead of the economic summit scheduled in Cairo next February,” said Mehleb.
A new package of investment-friendly measures, Mehleb continued, involves overhauling a raft of existing legislation on trade, customs and taxes.

“We have discussed laws regulating investment, personal litigation for Muslims and non-Muslims, professional syndicates and labour relations,” said Mehleb. The prime minister added that the electoral districts law, which must be passed before parliamentary elections are held, “will take some time before it is ready”.

A day earlier, on Saturday, an informed source told parliamentary reporters that during a meeting with the committee on 9 October President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had requested it speed up its work.  

“After complaining that the committee is moving too slowly Al-Sisi urged members to compete their tasks by the end of October,” said the source.

Earlier presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef issued a statement saying that “President Al-Sisi asked the legislative reform committee for an urgent meeting to assess what progress it has made so far”.

The committee, said Youssef, submitted a list of laws that must be amended to conform with the new constitution passed by public referendum in January.

“The committee, headed by Mehleb, presented a statistical report on the number of political, economic and social laws that must be amended.”

Youssef said Al-Sisi had directed the committee to prioritise “strategic laws “.

“The president asked the committee to give priority to specific strategic laws and to conduct a national dialogue on these laws before they are redrafted.”

The legislative reform committee was formed a few days after Al-Sisi was sworn in as president in June. Headed by Mehleb, its members include Minister for Transitional Justice and House of Representatives Affairs Ibrahim Al-Heneidi, Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber, Chairman of the State Council (administrative courts) Gamal Nada, Grand Mufti Shawki Allam alongside leading judges, lawyers and university professors.

Al-Sisi met the committee against a backdrop of growing criticism of its performance by political activists.

Political parties complain the committee is moving at a snail’s pace and needs to be pressured to accelerate its review of the political laws necessary for parliamentary elections to be held.

“Not only is the committee moving at a glacial pace, there is also a marked lack of transparency around its proceedings,” says Salah Hassaballah, deputy chairman of the Congress Party.” “No one has any idea about what has been achieved so far, and the opacity appears deliberate.”

Reports appeared in the press claiming that in the 9 October meeting Al-Sisi had instructed the committee to devote all its sessions this month to finalise the electoral districts law and legislation regulating investment in Egypt.

“The president asked the committee to present a final draft of the electoral districts law this month so that the Higher Election Committee (HEC), the seven-member judicial body entrusted with supervising parliamentary polls, could announce a timetable for the polls,” one report claimed.

During his recent visit to New York, Al-Sisi said on a number of occasions that parliamentary polls would be held this year, leading to speculation that he was being pressured by Washington to move the democratisation process forward in order for Egypt to be eligible for fresh economic and political assistance.  

In a statement issued following meetings with Al-Sisi on Monday and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri on Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said “the US looks to see Egypt’s parliamentary elections held in the near future”.

News agencies reported that Kerry had pressed Al-Sisi to press ahead with democratic reforms and “allay fears Egypt’s leadership is veering off the path to democracy”.
Kerry told reporters on Sunday that US-Egypt ties remained strong.

“We believe there are ways for us to be able to work together,” Kerry said, pointing to the progress on economic reforms already made by the government.

Kerry was in Cairo to attend a one-day donors’ conference to raise funds to help Gaza following the wholesale damage inflicted by Israel during its 50-day war targeting the strip.

Mustafa Bakri, editor of the weekly Al-Osbou newspaper and media spokesman of the Egyptian Front Coalition, dismissed suggestions that Al-Sisi had come under American pressure to move ahead with the process of democratisation.

“This is what the American — or NATO — media claims all the time. The fact is Al-Sisi wants parliamentary polls to be held as soon as possible for purely domestic reasons. The problem, however, is that the electoral districts law needs a huge amount of work before it is completed, especially after the government decided to create three new governorates — Central Sinai, Al-Wahat, and Al-Alamein.”

Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber issued a public statement following the legislative committee’s  meeting with Al-Sisi on 9 October stressing that “new boundaries of constituencies cannot be completed without taking the creation of three new governorates into account”.

Bakri insists that the “parliamentary polls will be held later this year”.

“The law on electoral districts can be finalised by the end of October, or even in mid-November, and the HEC will still have time to call for the vote before the end of this year.”

On 10 October HEC spokesman Medhat Idris said that while the HEC is waiting for the electoral districts law to be finalised it is focusing on completing as many procedural tasks as possible to allow parliamentary elections to be held.  “We are revising voter lists, coordinating with judges and discussing a preliminary timetable for the poll,” says Idris.

Parliamentary polls are the third, and final, part of the political roadmap adopted after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July last year. They will follow the passing of the new constitution last January and the election of a new president in May.

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