Army major general Khaled Abdel-Sallam Al-Sadr will begin his new job as secretary general of Egypt's House of Representatives – lower house of parliament – this week, becoming the first man from military ranks to hold this post.
On 15 October, Egypt's transitional justice minister and the head of House of Representatives Affairs, Ibrahim Al-Heneidy surprised house staff and parliamentary reporters when he selected Al-Sadr to be the new secretary-general of the House.
Al-Sadr replaced Farag Al-Dorri who reached retirement age on 30 September. Al-Dorri had been the secretary-general of Egypt's former consultative upper house (the Shura Council) since 1989.
When the Shura Council was dissolved by a new constitution passed in a public referendum last January and the name of Egypt's lower house parliament changed from the People's Assembly to the House of Representatives, Al-Dorri was re-named as secretary-general of the House.
The House's staff of employees hoped that Al-Dorri, 84, would be left in his position for another year largely due to his long judicial and legislative experience and high managerial skills, or that at least a senior judge with deep-rooted legislative experience would replace him. Instead, employees were surprised by Al-Heneidy taking the unprecedented step of appointing a senior army officer as the secretary-general of the House.
"Al-Heneidy should have waited until parliamentary elections were held and for votes on naming a new secretary-general," said one house employee who asked not to be named.
According to the executive regulations of the House of Representatives, issued in 1979, the speaker and his two deputies are entrusted with naming the House's Secretary-general, but only under approval of two thirds of deputies.
"When a new parliament is formed in the first half of next year, the new speaker and his deputies will have the right to keep Al-Sadr in his position or name a new one," said a legal expert with the House.
Regulations state that the secretary-general position is fully responsible for running the daily business of parliament, ranging from preparing the daily schedule of parliamentary debates, supervising the performance of 18 parliamentary committees, to managing the daily affairs of parliamentary staff and personnel.
"In other words," said the legal expert, "the secretary-general acts as the executive director of the parliament and in a way that puts him in daily and close contact with all state authorities, ranging from the presidency, to the cabinet to the ministries of interior and defence."
Informed house sources said Al-Sadr has good judicial background, with experience working with military courts and intelligence. The army has been in charge of guarding the Egyptian parliament building since 28 January 2011 when police forces crumbled in the face of protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.
Al-Sadr is expected to meet with house staff amid hopes that a secretary-general with military background will bring discipline. Parliamentary staff say they suffered when the Muslim Brotherhood took parliament for six months (January-June 2012). One employee said they "seized their majority in parliament to take over the secretariat-general, turning it into something like a Brotherhood office.”
Under the autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak, Sami Mahran, a former judge, had been the longest-serving parliamentary secretary-general, retaining his post from 1985 to 2012. Mahran resigned from his post in October, 2012, after he was referred to trial on charges of illegally profiteering from his job.
In April 2013, Mahran was sentenced to three years in jail and was ordered to repay LE17 million in illegal profits he had secured from his long-time position. Mahran fled Egypt just one month before the Giza Criminal Court found him guilty of abuse of power and illegal profiteering.
Despite parliament being under Muslim Brotherhood control in the first half of 2012, Mahran continued to serve as secretary-general. Brotherhood speaker Saad Al-Katatni left him in his post although Mahran was branded as one of the loyalists to Hosni Mubarak's defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).