Presidential Decree 452/2019, published in the official gazette on 10 September, calls on the House of Representatives to convene on 1 October, at 10am Cairo local time, to begin its final legislative season before parliamentary elections are held at the end of 2020, Gamal Essam El-Din reports.
Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said in an interview with Al-Ahram on 13 September that in its final season the House will discuss a number of political laws.
“We have to discuss laws on the formation and election of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and on the redrawing of electoral districts,” said Abdel-Aal. “MPs will also be expected to finalise the long-awaited law on the election and regulation of local councils.”
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi told the eighth National Youth Conference on 14 September that he was optimistic a new local council law can be passed by the end of this year so municipal elections — the first in a decade — can be held early in 2020.
“The aim of creating a second chamber — the Senate — is to widen the scope of participation in political life,” said Abdel-Aal. “We hope the Senate will allow public figures, professionals and ordinary citizens to have a voice in political life.
“Some argue the Senate should be elected as soon as the necessary legislation is passed,” said Abdel-Aal. “Others believe that, for economic and security reasons, elections for the Senate and House of Representatives should be held in tandem.”
A single election can cost LE1 billion to stage and involves vast numbers of security personnel.
Abdel-Aal said he would also like to see changes to the 1977 law on political parties, though legislation regulating the election and performance of local councils must take precedence.
“The legislation should activate political life by injecting new blood into local councils. I hope that political parties will be able to field candidates in the municipal polls,” said Abdel-Aal.
In an article on 11 September, published under the title “Back to political reform”, Yasser Rizk, chairman of Akhbar Al-Youm, lamented that political parties in Egypt remained weak and ineffective.
“If the poor performance of political parties continues in the coming year municipal and parliamentary elections will be pallid,” wrote Rizk. He urged parties with similar platforms to join ranks so “we can have two or three effective political groupings reflecting leftist, rightist and centrist ideologies.”
This, argued Rizk, would ensure the smooth rotation of power.
There are currently 104 political parties in Egypt.
“We have three elections next year and nobody knows whether political parties will be ready to contest them,” says Abdel-Aal. “What we need is two or three well-resourced political parties with distinct platforms, like the Republicans and Democrats in the US or the Labour and Conservative parties in the UK.”
Abdel-Aal and Rizk agree Egypt should not return to a one-party system.
“The Arab Socialist Union, under Nasser, was a failure. And though President Sadat promoted a multi-party system it fizzled out quickly, to be replaced by the National Democratic Party,” said Rizk.
Rizk says political reform in Egypt can never be complete without a free press.
“Free press and free speech will guarantee the country remains stable and is immune to hostile media campaigns from abroad,” argues Rizk. “Free speech also means people will be encouraged to actively participate in political life.”
Yet Rizk also believes the post of minister of information should be reinstated.
“The main job of the incumbent should be to respond to hostile media campaigns and deliver factual statements, while the three media watchdogs – the Higher Council for Media Regulation, the National Media Authority, and the National Press Authority – should act to push press and media freedoms forward.”
Political analyst and independent MP Samir Ghattas told Al-Ahram Weekly there was an urgent need for political reform.
“A free press and free speech are essential prerequisites of stronger and more competitive political life. When the 30 June anti-Brotherhood revolution erupted in 2013 national media outlets sided with the state at a very critical stage. Now this stage is over the media, both state-owned and private, should have complete freedom. The public would then have little appetite to listen to hostile foreign views.”
Ghattas also recommends that political legislations on the Senate, the House and local councils first be subject to a national dialogue. “All kinds of figure, including from the opposition, should be invited to discuss the electoral systems that best guarantee all forces are represented in the two chambers.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.