MPs this week continued debating Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli’s policy statement, delivered before parliament on 8 October. Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said an ad hoc parliamentary committee headed by Deputy Speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif had been formed to review the policy statement, fuelling speculation that a cabinet reshuffle is imminent.
The debates suggest that MPs, who had previously appeared keen to tow the government line, now feel they have a green light to hammer the government with scathing criticism.
Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, head of the majority Support Egypt coalition of MPs, said that when parliament was asked to endorse the government’s economic reform programme with the IMF in 2016 it had done so out of a sense of national duty, but only after stipulating “the government take all the measures necessary to protect the poor.
“It is now clear the government has not done nearly enough to improve health services, protect the most vulnerable families and rein in inflation.”
Al-Qasabi also complained the legislation is regularly presented to parliament at the 11th hour, and the majority of cabinet ministers ignore parliamentary meetings and refuse to answer MPs’ questions.
The cabinet spokesperson issued a statement on 10 October saying Madbouli had ordered cabinet ministers to attend parliament in person to answer questions and discuss laws related to their portfolios.
Atef Nasr, spokesperson of the Future of Homeland Party, criticised Madbouli’s government for its treatment of public employees.
“The government boasts that it has raised its employees’ minimum monthly salary from LE1,300 to LE2,000,” said Nasr. “How can it think LE2,000 is enough when people now face monthly electricity bills of LE500, and water bills of the same amount.”
According to Nasr, the burden of austerity engendered by economic reform has fallen heaviest on the shoulders of those least able to cope.
“The government should do everything possible to improve their lives,” he said.
Independent MP Emad Mahrous focused his criticisms on Minister of Supply Ali Moselhi.
“Moselhi claimed in a TV interview that no citizens had been stripped of their ration cards,” said Mahrous. “Yet around two million names have been removed from the list of people eligible for subsidies.
“Moselhi should be dismissed immediately. Cabinet ministers are appointed to serve citizens, not provoke them.”
The minister of social solidarity should also be fired after she decided to strip poor families of the Takaful [Solidarity] and Karama [Dignity] cash subsidies.”
MP and businessman Karim Salem said the government’s success on the macroeconomic level had yet to trickle down to the majority of people.
“Yes, the budget deficit, foreign debt and economic growth figures are impressive but they are meaningless unless they translate into tangible improvements in people’s daily lives.”
MP Mustafa Bakri said families on average incomes have been crushed under the wheels of economic reform which have left “millions struggling to meet their daily needs”.
He also blamed the government for “heavy-handed censorship of the media”.
“More freedom of speech is needed in order to withstand the hostile media campaigns that are fomented abroad,” said Bakri. “Without greater freedoms, and lasting social reforms, we could well end up on the road to another 25 January.”
Leftist MPs Abdel-Hamid Kamal and Talaat Khalil accused the government of arbitrarily detaining political activists during the protests that were held two weeks ago.
Kamal claimed security forces had arrested many people in Suez city, and that families of those detained had been unable to discover their whereabouts.
“These are political prisoners,” said Khalil, “and they are being denied due process.”
Speaker Abdel-Aal argued that no one who joined the protests can be described as a political detainee.
“Let me send a clear message to local and foreign circles. There are no political detainees in Egypt,” said Abdel-Aal. “Anyone arrested two weeks ago will be released if investigations show they were not involved in illegal activities.”
Madbouli insisted “the most difficult decision any government can take is to implement an IMF-drafted economic reform programme.”
He argued that the reforms would have been far less painful had they been taken earlier, but that was something that successive governments had balked at.
“When we came to office it was clear that the difficult decision could no longer be deferred. Economic reform was the only way for the country to move ahead.”
Madbouli pointed out that the pound has gained 10 per cent against the dollar in the last 12 months and social protection programmes had lifted millions out of poverty.
“We have upped allocations to the Takaful and Karama programmes from LE6.6 billion to LE18 billion. Millions of Egyptian families have been treated for Hepatitis C free of charge, and 67 million citizens have access to subsidised bread.”
Madbouli added that budgetary allocations for ration and subsidy cards had increased from LE35 billion in 2014 to LE89 billion in 2019.
“However high the costs of reforms, they were necessary. We need to ensure that the next generation can live in stability, and that Egypt can move forward on a sound fiscal footing.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.