President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is expected to issue three decrees as the newly-elected legislative chamber gets ready to convene following the conclusion of Egypt's first parliamentary elections in more than three years.
Egypt's two-stage parliamentary elections closed 16 December. The opening session of the new parliament is expected to be convened within two weeks.
In a press conference Friday, Ayman Abbas, head of the High Elections Committee (HEC) that took charge of supervising the polls between17 October and 16 December, announced that all the parliament's 568 elected seats have been filled.
"Out of this total, as many as 325 (57 per cent) won as independents, while 243 (43 per cent) won as party affiliates," said Abbas.
Abbas said the number of members of Egypt's new House of Representatives will reach 596 when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi appoints 28 (five per cent) public figures as presidential appointees.
Informed sources said Sisi's decree is expected to be issued this week or immediately after 13 MPs who won seats in four constituencies last week obtain their parliamentary membership cards.
According to two articles in the 2014 Constitution, the president is authorised to appoint a number of public figures as parliamentary deputies, with the stipulation that at least half of the appointees are women, and that they must also include representatives of workers, farmers, youth, Copts, and the physically challenged.
In order to achieve this objective, Article 27 of the House law states that specialised national councils, the Higher Council for Universities, scientific research centres, professional syndicates and trade unions must send the president lists of prominent figures from which he will select appointees for parliament.
Article 27 also stipulates that in selecting appointees, the president must make sure that they are not members of any political faction, were not candidates who lost in the polls, are not members of any ruling party he heads, and that they are people who have "performed outstandingly in their professions".
Ministers in parliament?
Nonetheless, Shawki Al-Sayed, a constitutional law expert and a former independent MP, notes that not only does Article 102 of the constitution allow cabinet ministers to run in the polls, it also does not prevent the president from appointing cabinet ministers as parliamentary deputies.
"So we can expect that the president may appoint a cabinet minister like Minister of Justice Ahmed Al-Zind as a parliamentary deputy," Al-Sayed said.
Rumours are rampant in parliamentary circles that Al-Zind will be appointed so he could be elected by MPs as speaker of Egypt's new parliament. "If elected speaker of parliament, Al-Zind will be forced to resign as minister of justice," said Al-Sayed.
Different sources, however, insist that Sisi is keen not to have any hand in electing Egypt's new parliamentary speaker. One informed source with the pro-Sisi "For the Love of Egypt" coalition, which won all 120 party list seats, told Ahram Online that they have no idea which figures will be appointed by Sisi.
"The choice of appointees is a purely presidential business which we know nothing about at all," the source said. "All we know is that Sisi should appoint at least 14 women as MPs."
There are strong rumours that the list of presidential appointees will include Amr Moussa, Egypt's former foreign minister, Farouk Sultan, the former head of the Higher Constitutional Court (HCC) and the judge who supervised 2012's presidential elections, Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, an Al-Ahram political analyst and a former Shura Council member, and Mervat Tallawy, chairman of the National Council for Women (NCW).
The NCW said a record number of 73 women won seats in Egypt's new parliament. "If a list of 14 female appointees is to be added, the total number will climb to an unprecedented 87, or 12.8 per cent, and this is a historic achievement," the NCW said in a statement.
Al-Sayed notes that stipulations imposed by Article 27 of the House law are necessary in order to prevent the president exploiting a constitutional prerogative to appoint figures loyal to him, without regard to whether they are people with outstanding records of performance.
"Under the Mubarak age, presidential appointees were selected only upon the grounds that they were loyal to the president and the ruling party," he added..
Al-Sayed hails the fact that all parliament's elected seats have been filled without facing serious constitutional or legal challenges. "But it still remains to be seen whether appeals against the results of the polls in certain constituencies were lodged with the Court of Cassation or not," he said, indicating that "Unlike the case under the Mubarak regime, parliament will be obliged to implement rulings issued by the Court of Cassation on appeals against election results."
According to Article 107 of the constitution, said Al-Sayed, if the Court of Cassation ordered that the results of the poll in a certain constituency be invalidated, the House will be obliged to implement this order as soon as it officially takes note of it."
Once Sisi's decree on presidential appointees is issued, it will be followed by another on the opening meeting of the new parliament.
According to Article 115 of the constitution, the president should invite the House of Representatives to meet ahead of the first Thursday of the month of October. Al-Sayed argues that "as polls lasted until half of December, parliament was not able to meet in October in compliance with Article 115 of the constitution. But in the coming years it will be obliged to abide by this article."
Article 117 of the constitution states that parliament's opening session is primarily procedural, with MPs required to elect a speaker and two deputies for one legislative season only, and that the duration of the legislative session is no more than nine months.
"The speaker and its two deputies should be elected by the majority — or two thirds — of MPs in a plenary procedural session," said Al-Sayed, adding that "This will be followed by another procedural sitting later on the same day to announce the results of electing chairmen and deputies for 19 parliamentary committees."
In the opening session, MPs should also take the following national oath: "I swear by the Almighty God to loyally uphold the republican system, respect the Constitution and the Law, fully observe the interests of the People, and to safeguard the independence of the nation and integrity and unity of its land."
As a record number of 596 MPs will be required to take this oath, Al-Sayed expects that parliament's procedural opening session will last for as long as four hours.
Many expect that parliament's opening session will be held on 28 December, but parliamentary precedent shows that the opening session is usually held on Wednesdays.
"I think it will be better for the opening parliamentary session to be held in the first week of January, most probably on 6 January. But it all depends on the schedule of the president," said Al-Sayed.
Al-Sayed notes that once parliament holds its procedural opening meeting, it will be required to vote on laws that have been issued by the president while it has not been in session.
According to Article 156, parliament should discuss and vote on laws that have been issued by the president while it was not in session, and that these votes should be within 15 days of the commencement of its session. "This is a big challenge that the new parliament should face," said Al-Sayed.
On the other hand, Al-Sayed argued that Article 150 of the constitution does not make it obligatory for the president to come to parliament after its opening meeting to deliver a speech.
"But I think that Sisi will be keen to invite the House to an extraordinary session to deliver a public speech on the state's public policies. Sisi's speech before parliament will reinforce his international standing as an elected president of Egypt, and that he does not want to hold all powers in his hands."
Salah Fawzi, another constitutional expert, also agrees that Article 150 of the constitution stops short of stipulating that the president must deliver a speech before parliament after its opening session.
"This was the case under the Mubarak regime, but it was revoked in the new constitution," said Fawzi, also agreeing that "Once parliament holds its procedural opening sessions and MPs take the national oath, Sisi will be keen to issue a third decree, inviting MPs to listen to a speech by him in an extraordinary meeting."
Sisi's speech before parliament will be the first since he came to office a year and half ago, in June 2014. "In his speech, El-Sisi must make a review of his domestic and foreign policies since he came to office and explain his strategy for the coming period," said Fawzi.
According to Al-Sayed, Sisi's first speech before parliament must cover crucial issues such as relations with America and Europe, growing cooperation with Russia, Egypt's membership of a new Islamic military bloc led by Saudi Arabia, and negotiations related to Ethiopia's building of a new dam on the Nile River.
More important than Sisi's speech is the government's policy statement. Sisi said the government of Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, appointed in September, will stay until Ismail delivers his government's policy statement before parliament.
According to Article 146 of the constitution, the prime minister must deliver a policy statement before the new parliament and in one month the parliament (with two thirds majority) should decide whether it gives the government a vote of confidence.
"If the government failed to gain confidence from parliament, the president shall entrust the majority party or coalition to form an alternative government, and if it failed, parliament would be automatically declared dissolved and new elections would be held within two months," according to Article 146.
According to the parliament's secretary-general, Ahmed Saadeddin, MPs will elect a speaker and two deputies through casting their votes in glass boxes.
"Although an electronic voting system was installed, it will not be operated in the opening session because this will be quite difficult for a lot of MPs to use," said Saadeddin.
He also indicated that MPs who were elected for the first time are currently receiving training on parliamentary procedures and rules, so that they can exercise their powers and duties in a smooth manner.