When parliament reconvened on Sunday, Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal began the plenary session by saying MPs were keen that the newly-drafted law regulating the performance and election of local councils be discussed soon. He told MPs that some commentators had interpreted parliament’s December decision to postpone discussion of the new local council law as meaning it would not be up for debate during the current session.
“The law is still on the agenda of the House and the Local Administration Committee made a great effort in its drafting,” said Abdel-Aal. He added, however, that the legislation still requires to be the subject of consultations before it is put up for debate.
“We need to ensure there is a consensus over the legislation when it is put up for a vote in parliament,” said Abdel-Aal.
When the local council law was discussed in plenary session on 22 December, a majority of political parties opposed on constitutional grounds and because of timetabling difficulties.
“To schedule local elections in 2020 would mean political parties will have to contest three elections in one year, a local poll alongside the votes for the House of Representatives and the Senate,” said Ahmed Nasser, spokesman of the majority Mostakbal Watan (Future of Homeland) Party.
In a meeting held on 5 February at Mostakbal Watan’s headquarters, the heads of most political parties said they want to ensure the legislation contains no constitutional irregularities and allows all political forces to contest local council seats.
Ashraf Rashad, head of Mostakbal Watan, recalled that Egypt has been without elected local councils since 2011 because the law regulating the councils was invalidated by the Supreme Constitutional Court. “We have to be very cautious when we discuss the new law to make sure it does not meet the same fate,” he said.
Meanwhile, parliament approved six new laws on Sunday.
The 30-article Consumer Credit Law which regulates consumer finance companies and outlines the process of their being established, won provisional approval.
Abdel-Aal said the law addressed consumer financing outside the banking sector.
“These operations are valued at LE70 billion every year. The law regulates these businesses, protects consumers from harmful transactions and boosts the capacity of households to buy products in a manner that promotes social justice and abides by financial and monetary policy,” said Abdel-Aal.
An amendment to the antiquities protection law introducing tougher penalties for the illegal trade in artefacts was also approved. Minister of Antiquities and Tourism Khaled El-Enany said the 2018 law criminalising the trade in antiquities was too leniant.
“The law did not halt the sale of ancient artefacts in a foreign auction halls,” said El-Enany. “The new amendment comes to toughen penalties, which can now include a life sentence with hard labour and a fine of LE1 million for illegally acquiring antiquities inside Egypt or selling them abroad.”
Parliament also approved a bill establishing committees to regulate parking and the work of soyyas (street car park attendants).
MPs gave the nod to a bill that allows the Minister of Finance to guarantee a loan of LE450 million euros to the Holding Company for Spinning and Weaving to restructure its financial systems and buy new machinery to update its production lines.
On the same day Abdel-Aal referred a proposed bill to regulate shipping and transport on inland waterways back to the cabinet. The recently proposed government legislation seeks to encourage the use of the Nile as a transport artery by clarifying licensing procedures and route approval.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.