Informed sources say the government has begun preparing a law to regulate the Senate — Egypt’s soon to be upper house. The committee appointed to draft the law will coordinate with parliament’s own Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee and with Deputy Speaker Suleiman Wahdan. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan will also have a hand in preparing this and other political laws expected to be discussed by parliament in its final legislative season 2019-20. New elections will then be held at the end of 2020.
Olfat Kamel, parliamentary spokesperson of the Modern Egypt Party, issued a statement on Tuesday saying some political parties — the Wafd, the Future of Homeland, the Free Egyptians Party and the parliamentary majority Support Egypt coalition bloc — are preparing their own draft Senate laws.
The Support Egypt coalition surprised many commentators in July when it submitted a draft law regulating the performance of the Senate on the day parliament was scheduled to adjourn for the summer recess.
Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, leader of the majority bloc, told reporters that he had submitted the draft law to speaker Ali Abdel-Aal.
The majority coalition’s draft sets the number of Senate seats at 240 members, 80 to be elected under the slate system, 80 under the individual candidacy system, and 80 to be named by the president.
Al-Qasabi said the draft fully complies with Article 248 of the constitution which, as amended in April, “states that the role of the Senate will be to study and propose everything necessary to reinforce democracy in Egypt, support social peace, preserve the tenets of society and its supreme values, rights and freedoms and public duties”.
The draft law also specifies, in line with Article 249, that the Senate will be consulted on any proposed amendments to the constitution, the state’s socio-economic development plans, international treaties and legislation proposed by the president and the House of Representatives.
At the time Abdel-Aal insisted “political laws, including that of the Senate, will be discussed in parliament only after a national dialogue has taken place.”
Article 250 of the constitution states the number of Senate seats must be no less than 180, but refrains from setting a maximum. “This is different to the House of Representatives which the amended constitution says will comprise 450 members, far less than the current 596,” points out Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie.
Rabie argues that the Senate could be well placed to energise political life in Egypt.
“The Senate will be open to many public figures who will be able to contribute their opinions, even if the Senate’s role remains advisory,” says Rabie. “The House of Representatives and the government will be obliged to consult the Senate, though they will be free to adopt or reject the Senate’s opinion.”
But ultimately, says Rabie, whether the Senate will make a positive contribution to Egypt’s political life will depend on its members, particularly those named by the president.
“Most MPs appointed by the president in the House of Representatives did a very good job, and we hope the same will be true of the Senate,” said Rabie.
Political parties differ over how many seats the Senate should include. The Support Egypt coalition has proposed 80 appointees while the Wafd Party favours 90. Ayman Abul-Ela, parliamentary spokesperson of the Free Egyptians Party, would like the Senate to contain 300 seats, 100 of them occupied by appointees.
Kamel says the Modern Egypt Party is keen appointees be restricted to 80.
“The focus should be on quality not quantity,” said Kamel. “Eighty is sufficient to ensure the best minds in the country are represented and will be enough to refresh the country’s political life, especially if the appointees include opposition figures.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Senate seating plans