President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has said parliament should shoulder its responsibility when supervising the government and called on the government to be more supportive of the parliament, reports Gamal Essam El-Din.
“Parliament has to be up to its responsibility in supervising the government,” Al-Sisi said while inaugurating the state-owned Al-Nasr for Intermediate Chemicals factory on 31 October. “Please form committees, issue reports and let the people take public note of this,” Al-Sisi said.
Al-Sisi also said the government should be more cooperative with parliament. “The government should not be sensitive to criticism in parliament, and if there are any accusations, or even insults, parliament and its different committees should play their roles in revising these accusations and announcing the results, because it is the truth that we all seek to reveal,” Al-Sisi said, indicating that “government officials should take questions or interpellations directed at them as a natural and expected measure without any sensitivity.”
Most political analysts and MPs agree that Al-Sisi’s comments come on the heels of a one-month hostile media campaign led by a number of TV channels broadcasting from Turkey and Qatar. “These campaigns are part of a propaganda war which uses the weapon of malicious rumours and social media to spread lies and push people to lose confidence in their own government and the state,” Al-Sisi said. “In this war, all — parliament, the government and media organisations — should play their roles to uncover the truth, reveal facts, and not allow any parties to cast doubt on achievements. The strategy of these campaigns is based on heaping dust on all achievements, portraying everything as bad, and that they are the only good guys.
“In this war, state authorities were up to their responsibility in standing up to malicious rumours and movements, but MPs should play greater roles in terms of investigating the truth and stating the facts and if there are any shortcomings they should announce them quite frankly.
“What I want to say is that all authorities should join forces to defend the Egyptian state because the challenges have become so serious, and because without this, dangers will be great, and there will be a void that could be filled by hostile forces,” the president said.
In an initial reaction, Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told reporters on 2 November that Al-Sisi’s remarks send messages. The first is that all state authorities should be up to their constitutional and legal responsibilities in defending the state. He said the second message is that it is not enough to respond to malicious rumours and hostile media campaigns. “All state authorities, including parliament, should always take the initiative to declaring the facts and uncover the truth, and to sound the alarm on any shortcomings, if any.”
Abdel-Aal said the relationship between the government and parliament has recently not been good. “Since the parliament began its new session on 1 October I have been keen to constantly warn the government and alert cabinet ministers to the necessity of containing the negative impact of economic reforms on ordinary citizens.
“We want to tell the government that social media rumours and hostile propaganda wars exploit social grievances to spread malicious messages, and that the government and executives should be aware of this and show enough concern about social aspects.”
Abdel-Aal said MPs were keen in the last period to direct critical questions to government officials and cabinet ministers. “They all want to warn the government not to issue provocative decisions [such as stripping two millions citizens of ration cards and raising electricity bills]. Our message was that ordinary citizens paid a dear price for economic reforms and so they expect more from the government in the coming period in the form of improved public services and social protection measures. Without this, citizens might lend an ear to such malicious media campaigns.”
Prosecution authorities said in a statement last week that many people who joined street protests on 20 September did this for economic reasons and that they wanted to give vent to their daily life’s grievances.
Abdel-Aal said parliament might allow MPs to direct interpellations at cabinet ministers in the coming period. “Interpellations are the most effective supervisory tool and we were lately keen not to use it against any cabinet minister, but we could put an interpellation up for discussion if a cabinet minister shows something akin to irresponsibility or corruption.”
Abdel-Aal told MPs on Tuesday that many interpellations will be discussed in parliament in the coming period, and that important political laws on the senate, elections and local councils will also be discussed.
Abdel-Aal, however, admitted that hostile media campaigns which sought to push citizens to protest against the government in September led parliament and the government to change their strategies. “The government and parliament were keen not only to tell citizens that protests would only lead to chaos, but that the state is doing its best to improve their lives. In this context, the minister of supply was forced to go back on his previous decision to strip two million citizens of ration cards. The minister of electricity also moved quickly to revise electricity bills, not to mention that the prime minister vowed before parliament that the government does not have any intention to raise prices on any goods in the near future. The prime minister announced that the government would devote greater budgetary allocations to social services,” Abdel-Aal said.
Some MPs have repeatedly criticised the speaker for refusing to discuss interpellations that have been directed at a number of cabinet ministers. Before the 2011 Revolution, MPs directed interpellations at cabinet ministers on sensitive issues, including looting the funds of public sector banks, monopolistic practices and corruption in the tourism sector.
Abdel-Aal said the reason why many interpellations were not put for discussion was that they were not corroborated with adequate information, and were also based on flimsy grounds. “When an MP decides to use an interpellation to accuse a certain cabinet minister of corruption or misusing public funds, he should give reliable facts, documents and information to support his claims,” Abdel-Aal said, adding that “most interpellations submitted were not accompanied by substantial facts and so we decided to turn them into questions that cabinet ministers can answer.”
However, Mohamed Fouad, an independent MP, said this week that “President Al-Sisi’s words show a kind of mild criticism against parliament. I think President Al-Sisi wants to say that parliament is not using its supervisory tools adequately and that this should change,” Fouad said, indicating that “the government also shows some sort of ignorance concerning parliament and that most cabinet ministers are not keen to answer MPs’ questions or even come to parliament.”
Said Hassasin, MP and media expert, said that President Al-Sisi’s message on 31 October was directed at both parliament and the government. “Both should work together, refute malicious rumours, state facts and not allow the hostile media to fill any gaps in this issue.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.