Egypt parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al told MPs Monday that an amendment aimed at granting President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi the right to appoint a new Higher Press Council will be indefinitely postponed.
Abdel-Al indicated that "parliament would rather wait until a unified law aimed at regulating the press and the media is revised by the State Council and then referred to parliament."
Article 212 of Egypt's 2014 constitution states that a new unified law aimed at regulating state-run press organisations should gain priority by a newly-elected parliament.
Abdel-Al explained that after consultation with the government, it was decided that parliament should wait until a unified press law – drafted jointly by the government and the press syndicate – is completely revised by the State council in constitutional and legislative terms.
Abdel-Al's statement came in response to a question directed by an independent MP Mostafa Bakri.
"I cannot give a definite date on when the amendment will be discussed, but the discussion will come at the appropriate time," said Abdel-Al.
The amendment, proposed two months ago by MP Bakri, aimed to change article 86 of the Press Law (Law 96/1996) to allow President El-Sisi to appoint an interim Higher Press Council until a new law on the regulation of the press is passed by parliament.
However, the amendment had never been debated by MPs, even though Abdel-Al told MPs on 20 July that the amendment would be discussed only after laws regulating the civil service and pensions had been finalised and voted on.
On Monday, Bakri told Abdel-Al that his amendment aimed to meet a pressing need.
"While the legal term of the incumbent Higher Press Council expired at the end of July, the state-run press organisations are running up huge financial losses every day," said Bakri.
"The amendment comes to meet an urgent need – that is saving public press organisations from greater financial losses and appointing a legal Higher Press Council that could appoint new editors and board chairmen for these organisations."
In response, Abdel-Al insisted that he cannot open Bakri's amendment up for debate in a plenary session.
"We have to postpone this amendment until a revision of the unified press law is finalised by the State Council," said Abdel-Al.
Osama Sharshar, an independent MP and journalist, told Al-Ahram Online that Abdel-Al's response clearly signals that the government and by extension president El-Sisi do not support Bakri's amendment.
"A unified law regulating the press is about to be finalised by the State Council, and once finalised it will be prioritised for debate."
The State Council has been revising the 227-article unified law since 9 July.
Bakri, says Sharshar, appears not to realize that Abdel-Al's rejection to open a debate on his amendment means that "President El-Sisi and the government do not have the political will to meddle in the internal affairs of journalists because they know this would be an undemocratic measure."
Bakri told Abdel-Al that he has asked Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi Al-Agati when the unified law would be finalised by the state council, and "El-Agati's response was that the unified law would not come before October."
"This means that the unified law will take a long time to come to parliament, and so I see that my amendment should take priority," said Bakri.
Abdel-Al's response was that "if the unified amendment did not come at this time, we would give priority to your amendment."