After two procedural sessions last week, parliament got down to business on Monday, reports Gamal Essam El-Din. Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told a plenary session that his criticisms of the government last week were not aimed at containing “the anger of citizens” and he hopes “the government gets the message”.
Abdel-Aal said cabinet ministers should come to parliament rather than send assistants to discuss laws related to their portfolios and answer questions directed by MPs. The only exceptions, he said, will be the ministers of interior and defence who are entrusted with protecting national security.
Also on Monday, parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee issued a statement calling on the government to do more for the poorest. Committee head Amr Ghallab said the economic reform programme had badly impacted those on limited incomes.
“The hostile media campaign Egypt recently faced used the minister of supply’s decision to strip two million citizens of their ration cards as a pretext to call for street protests,” said Ghallab.
“The government needs to be aware that access to subsidised goods is essential for millions of families.”
Ghallab praised the government’s 3 October decision to reduce the price of gasoline by 25 piastres per litre.
“This important decision will ensure many essential goods are affordable to poor citizens. I hope to see a similar reduction in prices of utilities such as water and electricity.”
Abdel-Aal also urged MPs to open up a dialogue with young people living in their districts.
“The young now get their information from social media. You need to meet with them regularly to explain facts and correct any wrong information they receive,” said Abdel-Aal.
“Young people want to speak their minds. Your duty is to listen and provide them with correct information and facts.”
The speaker warned MPs against speaking to foreign television channels and newspapers about Egypt’s foreign relations without first coordinating with his office, arguing that “interviews on foreign issues could negatively impact Egypt’s relations with some countries.”
Meanwhile, the Press Syndicate issued a statement on 5 October saying it was closely following the response to recent calls to expand press freedom.
The statement said the syndicate’s board welcomed demands to increase the margins for debate and expressed the hope articles 70, 71 and 72 of the constitution, which guarantee freedom of the press, printing and publishing, prohibit censorship and the arbitrary suspension of publications, would be fully implemented.
A free, professional and legally responsible press was essential in the fight against terrorism and extremism, said the statement, and access to diverse opinions shouldn’t be ignored given one of the roles of the media is to reassure citizens that alternatives and solutions to their problems exist.
On 3 October the semi-official National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) issued a statement condemning the unjustified arrest of citizens, the inspection of their mobile phones, and the erosion of media credibility.
The NCHR argued the recent crisis had “exposed the state of the national media which has abandoned its mission to be a source of reliable information, forcing segments of the population to turn to foreign news outlets, some of which incite terrorism and violence.”
The council added that while it is “satisfied with the release of some of the people who were arrested”, the process needs to be speeded up to include “everyone not involved in violence or incitement to violence”.
In a same-day response to the NCHR’s statement a security source said the council had based its judgement on information from unreliable sources which seek to create confusion and tension on the streets.
The source added that all recent detentions were fully in accordance with the law.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.