Parliament is expected to begin discussing a number of political laws next month. “Right now, parliament and the government are heavily involved in intensive discussions on a package of political laws necessary to be passed before parliament’s current, and final, legislative season which ends in June 2020,” parliament Deputy Speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif told reporters this week.
“We have eight months to discuss and vote on these laws. And in our meetings we are keen to tell the government that the sooner the amendments of five political laws are submitted, the better it is for parliament to have the time necessary to hold a national dialogue on them and then discuss them in plenary sessions.”
Al-Sherif said the expected amendments cover laws regulating the Senate, the exercise of political rights, the performance and election of the House of Representatives, the redrawing of electoral districts, and the regulation and election of local councils. “These laws form the basis of political reform in Egypt, and we can say that they will draw the political landscape in Egypt for at least the next five years, and so they are highly important and should be passed in a way satisfying to all forces,” Al-Sherif said, adding that a number of MPs have also submitted amendments to the five laws. “But those presented by the government are the most important because it is the government that takes charge of redrawing electoral districts and that has full information on the country’s administrative units.”
Al-Sherif indicated that parliament’s Local Administration Committee has already finished debating the law regulating the performance and election of local councils. “A report on this law was prepared and submitted to parliament’s internal bureau led by Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, and it is now up to this bureau to decide when this law will be debated and voted on in plenary sessions,” Al-Sherif said.
Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of the Local Administration Committee, told reporters two weeks ago that the report on the local councils law was finished only after the committee had made sure that it gained something akin to national consensus and that it goes in line with constitutional amendments passed last April. “This law includes more than 250 articles that tackle sensitive issues related to the performance and election of local councils, and so it will need a lot of debate,” Al-Sigini said.
Al-Sherif also revealed that a government-drafted law regulating the performance and election of the Senate is expected to be referred to parliament soon. “Of course the government should make sure that the draft is in line with constitutional amendments and that it helps widen the scope of political activism and participation in Egypt,” Al-Sherif said.
A draft law submitted by the majority “Support Egypt” coalition states that the Senate will comprise 240 members, two-thirds of whom (160 members) are to be elected in a general ballot and one-third (80 members) to be appointed by the president. It also stipulates that half of the Senate’s two-thirds seats will be elected via the individual candidacy system (80), and the other half via the party list.
To meet this end, the law divides Egypt into two big districts (north and south) and two smaller districts (east and west).
Some political parties as well as MPs have also submitted their own drafts of the Senate law. The Wafd Party wants the Senate’s seats to increase to 280, while MP Abdel-Moneim Al-Oleimi, a member of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, places the number at 270.
Al-Sherif said there will be a national dialogue on the three laws related to the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Redrawing of Electoral Districts. “You can’t discuss these laws before you first get national consensus on them, and so we plan to invite chairmen of political parties, political analysts, public figures, university professors and journalists to a national dialogue on these laws,” Al-Sherif said.
Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, head of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee which will be in charge of debating the first reading of the new package of political laws, told reporters that the committee will begin holding a number of hearings on the Senate law. “We as members of the committee and I, as chairman of the Wafd opposition party, see that the priority in debating legislation in the coming period should be directed at the laws on the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the redrawing of electoral districts. These are closely related laws and should be discussed at length to make sure that they will help activate political life in terms of opening the door for all forces, activists and parties to contest the elections of the House and the Senate,” Abu Shoka said.
Abu Shoka argued that Egypt is being targeted by terrorist groups and foreign forces. “They all aim to disrupt the country through media wars, campaigns and conspiracies, and in order to stay solid and firm we should help rebuild a strong political life in the coming five years,” Abu Shoka said.
Osama Heikal, head of parliament’s Media, Culture and Antiquities Committee, told reporters that the five laws are expected to dominate parliament’s agenda over the next five months. “We have other important laws tackling economic issues and a law regulating personal affairs, but the discussion of all the laws, be they economic or political, will come only after coordination with the government and the National Committee for Elections,” Heikal said.
Heikal indicated that there are divisions within parliament and the government over whether the election of the House and the Senate should be held at the same time. “Many in government circles believe that this will save money and time, but it will be a big burden for security forces, and so we first have to reach a decision on this dispute,” Heikal said.
As for the national dialogue on the political laws, Heikal said it is unclear whether the dialogue will be held in or out of parliament. “It could be held in parliament in the same way a former national dialogue was held on constitutional amendments passed last April,” Heikal said.
Said Al-Gamal, deputy chairman of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, also indicated it is up to the government to decide whether the election of the Senate and the House in 2020 will be held at the same time, or one after the other. “This is a decision which will be taken only in light of security and financial considerations,” Al-Gamal said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.