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Egypt's new parliament to open Sunday to backlog of challenges

In a procedural sitting scheduled Sunday, Egypt's newly-elected parliament will grapple with a host of challenges, ranging from electing a speaker to discussing dozens of laws within 15 days

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 6 Jan 2016
The parliament building	(AP)
The parliament building (AP)
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After three years of political tumult and following the conclusion of a two-month election process, Egypt's new parliament, the House of Representatives, is due to hold the inaugural session of its five-year term on Sunday.

According to parliament's internal regulations, the opening procedural meeting should be chaired by three members; the oldest MP as chairman and the two youngest MPs as deputies.

Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi El-Agati announced that the 77-year-old Bahaaeddin Abu Shuka, secretary-general of the Wafd Party and an appointed MP, will chair the session in his capacity as the most senior parliamentarian.

Record 596 MPs to take oath

The procedure will be followed by the first challenge facing the new parliament given the unprecedented number of MPs – 596 – each of whom will be obliged to read aloud the national oath.

"It is impossible for all 596 MPs to take the national oath in one day and so we propose that half of them read it on Sunday and the other half on Monday," El-Agati told Al-Ahram newspaper on the first of January.

According to Article 104 of the new constitution, each MP is obliged to read out the following national oath in the opening session: "I swear by 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."

However A number of MPs and constitutional experts argued that as Article 102 of the constitution came short of specifying how the national oath should be taken, it is recommended that all MPs read out the oath in one voice.

"This will help parliament save no less than 20 hours that would be devoted to the national oath procedures," said Salah Fawzi, a professor of constitutional law at Mansoura University.

However, El-Agati said in an interview with state-owned TV on Wednesday that "Article 102 is clear that each MP should take the national oath before he or she starts exercising his/her parliamentary duties."

Election of speaker, two deputies

The new parliament will be required to grapple with another challenge in its procedural meeting; the election of a speaker and two deputies.

El-Agati insisted that the post of the speaker of parliament and two deputies should be assigned on the first day after all MPs read out the national oath.

The election of a speaker will be decided for the first time with the absence of a powerful ruling party. Under the 30-year rule of former president Hosni Mubarak, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) had the upper hand in selecting the speaker and two deputies.

Four MPs have so far announced that they will run for the post of speaker; constitutional expert Ali Abdel-Al, TV host Tawfik Okasha, former president of Al-Azhar University Osama El-Abd, and leftist MP Kamal Ahmed.

Abdel-Al's name shot to the top of the list of candidates after former interim president and the incumbent chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court Adli Mansour refused an offer by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to be appointed to parliament.

Two presidential appointees – Sirri Siam, the former chairman of the Court of Cassation and the Higher Council of Judges, and the Wafd's Abu Shuka – also announced that they had no intention of running for the post of speaker.

Siam and Abu Shuka said they would rather stand for the post of the chairman of parliament's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

The Pro-Egyptian State Coalition, a grouping of MPs who have vowed to form a majority in parliament to back the political and economic agenda of President El-Sisi, said Abdel-Al has climbed to the top of the list of the coalition's nominees for the speaker's post.

Led by Sameh Seif El-Yazal, a former intelligence officer, the coalition announced that "the door will be open for MPs who might have a wish to run for the post, and whoever gains the highest number of votes will be the coalition's official nominee for the post."

A number of the pro-Sisi bloc's leading officials, such as journalist and MP Mostafa Bakri, disclosed that Abdel-Al is the only name on the list of nominees, and as a result has a good chance to be the official candidate.

The name of the coalition's favoured nominee is expected to be announced one day before parliament's procedural session.

Ahmed Saaeddin, the secretary-general of the House of Representatives, announced that MPs will elect a speaker and two deputies by casting their votes in glass boxes.

"Although an electronic voting system was installed, it will not be operated in the opening session because it would be quite difficult for many MPs to use," said Saaeddin.

El-Agati told Al-Ahram that it is highly recommended that the speaker of the new parliament should be a figure with deep-rooted constitutional and political experience.

"I do not see a candidate lacking adequate constitutional and legal experience being elected speaker," said El-Agati.

Abdel-Al, 69, is an emeritus professor of constitutional law at Ain Shams University. He was elected as part of the For the Love of Egypt list, which was coordinated by Seif El-Yazal.

Discussing laws, decrees within 15 days

A third challenge that the new parliament will face immediately after concluding its procedural sitting is the constitutional necessity of discussing laws and decrees – within 15 days of sitting – that have been passed since the removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013.

El-Agati told Al-Ahram newspaper on 1 January that the number of laws that have been passed since the promulgation of the new constitution in 2014 stand at 292, and that these are the ones to which Article 156 of the constitution – which obligates parliament to vote on all laws passed since the removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013 within a matter of 15 days – should apply.

"While 170 law-effect decrees were issued in 2014, only 122 were issued in 2015," said El-Agati.

El-Agati indicated that the laws issued after the removal of Morsi in July 2013 and until a new constitution was passed in January 2014 – or the period in which Adli Mansour was still taking over as interim president – do not apply to Article 156.

"The Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled several times since 1978 that laws passed at the absence of a constitution cannot be reviewed by parliament," El-Agati argued.

He stressed, however, that " in spite of the above, I recommend that all laws passed since the removal of Morsi be reviewed by parliament... in which case, the number would be higher than 292."

El-Agati urged that once parliament's general committee – including speaker, two deputies, and chairmen of specialised committees – is formed following the procedural session on Sunday, it has to soon meet to debate how Article 156 should be implemented.

He said his personal view is that the new speaker should entrust the task of debating all law-effect decrees to parliament's 19 committees which could report back to the house within a matter of days, which will be enough to meet the requirements imposed by Article 156.

El-Agati warned that not discussing all law-effect decrees within a matter of 15 days could be considered a violation of the new constitution and hence lead to the dissolution of parliament.

"So as a precautionary measure, parliament should discuss all law-effect decrees that have been passed following the removal of Morsi," said El-Agati.

He also warned that "the discussion of law-effect decrees since Morsi's removal just in principle, rather than in detail, could also be considered a violation of Article 156 of the constitution."

Abdel-Al, who is expected to be elected speaker, has a different view, arguing that Article 156 in fact applies to just 10, or possibly 15 laws issued to deal with matters deemed urgent.

"Article 156 is clear that all law-effect decrees passed for matters deemed urgent such as the new anti-terror law are the only ones which apply to Article 156," said Abdel-Al.

Al-Agati also stressed that once its opening procedural sitting is held, parliament should quickly gear itself up for drafting new internal regulations.

"The current regulations were passed in 1979 and as a result they have become no longer valid, especially after the new constitution was passed," said El-Agati, indicating that his ministry has drafted a new law on parliament's internal regulations to be presented to the house for discussion.

President El-Sisi is expected to deliver a speech before the newly-elected parliament one week after its opening meeting to brief it on a number of domestic and foreign issues and provide guidelines for its work for the next five years.

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