Following a two-week holiday, Egypt's parliament – the House of Representatives – will begin grappling with a host of controversial issues on Sunday.
The ongoing dispute between the government and parliament over the new civil service law (Law 18/2015) is expected to be on top of the list of Sunday's agenda.
On 20 January, the parliament voted down the law, only to be asked by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to reconsider its position "as the law was a step in the direction of reforming the bureaucracy-laden administrative sector."
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi El-Agati also told parliamentary reporters that a report detailing the reasons why MPs had rejected the law would be forwarded to the government and the president's office.
Ahead of debating the law in a plenary session on 20 January, leftist MPs, led by independent Alexandrian MP Haitham El-Hariri, gathered support among MPs for a rejection of the law.
El-Hariri, the son of the late leftist MP Abul-Ezz El-Hariri, affiliated with four other MPs and with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party to distribute leaflets among parliamentarians which urged them to reject the law, on the grounds that it would negatively affect the lives of millions of state employees.
“The credibility of this new parliament would be seriously compromised among a big sector of Egyptian society if we fail to pass the first test by approving the law,” the leaflet said.
El-Hariri’s distribution of leaflets was heavily criticised by the speaker, Ali Abdel-Aal, and the flamboyant independent MP, Mortada Mansour.
The final vote on the law, however, showed that Abdel-Aal and Mansour had failed to influence MPs; 332 out of a total of 468 voted against the law.
El-Hariri told Ahram Online that he fully understood President El-Sisi’s dissatisfaction with the law being voted down. “We stand in support of reform of the civil service but this should not come at the expense of social justice and the interests of limited-income state employees,” he said.
“The president has the right to express his views about parliamentary performance but he should not be allowed to interfere in parliamentary affairs, because this could push us back to the Mubarak-style parliaments.”
Ahmed Saadeddin, the head of the parliament's secretariat, told reporters on Saturday that the house should first endorse "the minutes" of its debates related to the rejection of the law on 20 January.
"According to parliamentary rules, the endorsement of the minutes is a necessary step for the law to be officially declared rejected, and published as such in the official gazette," said Saadeddin, adding that "once this official rejection is referred to the president and the government, parliament will prepare a report detailing why it voted down the law on 20 January."
The law, which was ratified in March 2015 by El-Sisi in the absence of a parliament, aims to reform Egypt's administrative sector in order to lessen the wage burden on state finances and encourage private investment. MPs, however, insisted that the law would create do an injustice t to the estimated 6.4 million state employees and should be amended before it is approved.
According to Saadeddin, Sunday's sitting will be confined to endorsing the minutes of parliament's rejection of the civil service law, and endorsing another 342 presidential decrees that have been passed since the promulgation of a new constitution on 18 January 2014.
"I expect tomorrow's sitting to be short, after which the house will adjourn to meet again two or three days later to discuss a report aimed at upgrading the house's internal by-laws and code of conduct," said Saadeddin, "indicating that in order for parliament to fully exercise its legislative and watchdog roles, its internal by-laws should be first amended to be in-line with the new constitution."
Bahaeddin Abu Shukka, the secretary-general of the Wafd Party and chairman of a 25-member committee in charge of amending the by-laws, told reporters that parliament's internal regulations should be radically modified to democratise the performance of Egypt's new parliament and enhance its supervisory powers.
"While the number of parliamentary committees will increase from 19 to 28, independent and party-based MPs will have a greater say in decision-making inside parliament," said Abu Shukka.
Sunday's debates will also review three requests submitted to lift the parliamentary immunity of three MPs: Abdel-Rehim Ali, Mohamed Badawi Dessouqi, both representing constituencies in Giza, and Hussein Eissa, who was appointed by El-Sisi.
The requests were rejected by parliament's internal steering bureau for constitutional reasons.
Saadeddin said the requests were filed by a number of lawyers, asking parliament to strip the three MPs of their parliamentary immunity for different reasons.
"But the requests were rejected because lawyers did not follow the correct constitutional procedures in this respect, not to mention that most the requests were based on malicious grounds," said Saadeddin.
Saadeddin also indicated that the house had asked all MPs to submit statements detailing their financial wealth, ahead of being elected or appointed to committees in parliament.
"The statements should also oblige MPs to specify the jobs and the professions they used to perform before joining parliament and all the assets in their possession, and whether they stopped running these assets in accordance with articles of the House of Representatives law," said Saadeddin.