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A parliament delegation to visit New York to rally support for Egypt's reforms

MPs say they will open new channels with US congress and other international parliamentarians during UNGA meetings, which will be attended by President Sisi

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 17 Sep 2016
Parliament
File photo of the Egyptian parliament in session. (Photo: Reuters)
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Twenty Egyptian MPs will head to New York on Sunday to participate in the upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) meetings.

The Egyptian parliamentary delegation will join Egypt's president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi who is expected to address UNGA this week and attend an international UN summit.

According to Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, President El-Sisi's speech before the UNGA will highlight the necessity of settling regional conflicts in the Middle East and make a panoramic review of the recent economic and political reforms in Egypt.

The UNGA's 71st session will begin on 19 September and run through 26 September, with leaders from around 195 countries are expected to address the Assembly on global and national issues.

Egypt's parliamentary delegation to New York will comprise a mix of pro-government and opposition MPs and from different political, economic and religious backgrounds.

Solaf Darwish, a female MP from the Nile Delta governorate of Qalioubiya,  told Ahram Online Saturday that the delegation includes MPs representing different political parties and with diverse interests in politics, economics and religion.

"We have pro-government and opposition MPs and we have MPs affiliated with different committees such as the Arab Affairs Committee,  the Foreign Relations Committees, the Economic Affairs Committee, the Media Committee, the Human Rights Committee, and the Religious Affairs Committee," said Darwish, who is a member of the opposition "Defendants of the Nation" party.

An informed source indicated that "the bill of the MPs' visit to New York will be footed by the Media Affairs Chamber- which is affiliated with the General Egyptian Union of Chambers of Commerce."

 "The visit was proposed by the Media Affairs Chamber which also took charge of selecting MPs who will join Al-Sisi's visit to New York, with parliament or president Sisi having no role in this process," the source said.

The delegation will include high-profile MPs such as leftist opposition MP and film director Khaled Youssef, independent journalist Abdel-Rehim Ali, and Al-Ahram political analyst Emad Gad who is affiliated with the liberal Free Egyptians Party. Female MPs such as leftist journalist Nashwa Al-Deeb and chairwoman of the parliament's Tourism Committee Sahar Talaat Mostafa, and deputy chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Dahlia Youssef. Youssef is also the head of the newly-formed Egyptian-British Parliamentary Friendship Association.

Emad Gad, Al-Ahram's political analyst, told reporters that "although the delegation includes MPs opposing many of President Sisi's policies, its job in New York will be to rally support for President Sisi."

 "In addition to attending President Sisi's speech to the General Assembly, the delegation will stand up to any Muslim Brotherhood attempts aimed at disrupting El-Sisi's visit," said Gad.

"We know that this group has lost much of its voice in America, especially after republican presidential candidates designated it as a radical terrorist group, but it still has some clout among the radical liberal American media like the New York Times and the Washington Post and we got information that they plan to stage anti-Sisi demonstrations," said Gad.

Prominent Coptic female MP Margaret Azer, who will not be part of the New York delegation, also told reporters that it is a good precedent that MPs be part of the president of the republic's foreign visits.

 "I think the MPs' delegation in New York must focus on explaining Egypt's new economic and political reforms, review president Sisi's speech in the UNGA and forge contacts with international parliamentarians in this forum."

Azer said she is happy that a number of Christian MPs will be part of the delegation.

"This is also important because some of the US media outlets are trying their best to paint an image of Egypt that is persecuting Christians all the time."

Azer added "I think Christian MPs should hold meetings with Coptic Egyptians in the US to explain new positive developments in Egypt: the rebuilding of most of churches which faced arson attacks following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013, and the passing in parliament of a new law that makes it much easier for Egyptian Christians to construct and renovate churches."

Dahlia Youssef, deputy head of the Foreign Relations Committee, disclosed that "Egypt's parliamentary delegation is expected to hold a conference in New York to explain Egypt's new political and economic reforms and also alert attention to the celebration aimed at marking the 150th anniversary of Egypt's parliament next month."

Meanwhile, Darwish highlighted that the delegation's visit to New York will begin on Sunday and end on Thursday.

 "The visit will continue for three days and its main job is to rally support for president Sisi's new vision for the Middle East and Egypt in the coming period," said Darwish.

"We will attend President Sisi's speech before the UNGA, hold a conference on Egypt's reforms, and hold contacts with US congress people and other world parliamentarians as a kind of an Egyptian active parliamentary diplomacy," she said.

Tarek Al-Khouli, a member of the delegation, told reporters "the visit is mainly aimed at rallying support for Egypt's economic and political reforms in the world's biggest international forum, rather than holding discussions with US congress people."

He said Egypt has received many US congress people since parliament was elected in January. "We also received Paul Ryan, speaker of the US House of Representatives, who was keen to learn about political and economic conditions in Egypt."

Mohamed El-Orabi, chairman of parliament's foreign relations committee, told reporters that President Al-Sisi is expected to meet with US presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

"I do not have fears that Donald Trump – the Republican presidential candidate – could be America's new president," said El-Orabi, adding that "Trump designated Muslim Brotherhood in his foreign policy speeches as a radical group, not to mention that he vowed that if he became the new US president, he would hold an international conference on terrorism, with President Sisi and King Abudallah of Jordan being on top of the list of the invitees."

Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukri told Al-Ahram newspaper Saturday that "it is not yet definite that President Sisi will hold meetings with US presidential candidates Clinton and Trump."

Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign announced last week  that Clinton will meet with President Sisi on the sidelines of the UNGA meetings. El-Sisi and Clinton met and held talks in 2014 during the UNGA meetings in New York.

Most of Egypt's MPs agree that that US-Egyptian relations have suffered a setback at the hands of American president Barack Obama.

"Obama has the same view of the radical liberal camp and media which still considers what happened in Egypt in 2013 as a military coup and that El-Sisi is a new Mubarak-style dictator," said MP Mostafa Bakri.

"I think if we wanted to explain why Egyptian-American relations have no longer become strong, we can't help it blaming Obama in person for this deterioration," said Bakri.

Salah Hassaballah, head of the Freedom Party, also told reporters that Trump shows a good understanding of the dangers of Islamist terrorism.

"He described Obama's speech in Cairo in 2009 as a complete disaster and that the policies of his administration paved the way for the 'chaos' we see know in the Middle East," said Hassaballah.

Nader Mostafa, a member of the parliamentary delegation, told reporters Saturday that "many Egyptians living in the US sent messages to parliament that they will actively support its mission in New York."

"The delegation's main objective is not just to rally support to Egypt's reforms, but also to refute the lies and black propaganda which is the American media is disseminating about Egypt," said Mostafa, adding that "we are aware of what this malicious media is publishing about Egypt and we will be there to convey a different positive message about Egypt."

El-Orabi agrees that the dramatic political developments in Egypt in 2013 have negatively affected its relations with the US.

"But I think that the two US presidential candidates are well aware that Egypt has a leading role to play in fighting terrorism," said El-Orabi, adding that "President Sisi has the right to hold meetings with Clinton and Trump."

"President El-Sisi is conscious of the leading role the American media played in painting a bleak  picture of Egypt and for this reason he is keen that he holds personal meetings with American politicians from all camps in a bid to change this view," said Al-Orabi.

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