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Thursday, 09 April 2020

Coronavirus: Parliament in limbo

Parliament will remain in recess until 12 April amid coronavirus fears

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 26 Mar 2020
Parliament in limbo
Parliament in limbo
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Parliament’s activities will be suspended until at least 12 April. A statement issued by parliament’s Secretary-General Mahmoud Fawzi on 23 March said the House’s coming plenary meetings will be held on 12 April instead of Sunday 29 March.

“The postponement comes in line with state efforts to ban gatherings that might lead to an outbreak of the coronavirus,” the statement said, noting that “as MPs come from different governorates, it has become a necessity that they should not gather in one place.”

Fawzi indicated that the decision is also in line with Article 277 of the House’s internal by-laws which grants the speaker a mandate to change the date of plenary meetings whenever necessary.

As a result, Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal decided that the “House’s plenary meetings which were scheduled for 29 March be postponed to 12 April.”

A statement issued by the House on 20 March said people should leave home only when necessary. “It is the behaviour of citizens and their adherence to the government’s precautionary measures, including curfew hours beginning on Wednesday, that will put an end to the coronavirus in Egypt,” the statement said. “Citizens should stay at home and go out only in case of urgent necessity so that they do not give the virus room to spread and help the state fight it,” the statement said.

The House praised the measures taken by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to help the public mitigate the impact of the virus on their daily life. “It is also good that most basic foodstuffs are available and so there is no need for citizens to hoard goods or help spread malicious rumours that might affect the morale of the nation,” the statement said.

Parliament’s decision to put off its plenary meetings until 12 April was expected by many. MPs predict that the recess might extend beyond that. “Parliament will convene only if state authorities manage to declare the country free of the coronavirus,” MP and journalist Osama Sharshar said.

Meanwhile, MPs said a partial curfew should be implemented to prevent the coronavirus outbreak from reaching a crisis point. “I think the House’s decision on Monday to postpone its plenary meetings came because its leading officials knew beforehand that a curfew would be imposed for two weeks,” Sharshar said.

Inas Abdel-Halim, an MP and physician from Mansoura city, said in a statement on Sunday that a two-week curfew from 7pm to 6am would go a long way to help authorities fight the virus.

“A partial curfew would be a temporary measure that would help state authorities carry out the sterilisation and isolation efforts necessary to stem any possible [outbreak] of the virus,” Abdel-Halim said, adding that, “a partial curfew would also help prevent the virus from entering a terrible and deadly phase as we see in Italy, Iran and France.”

Deputy Parliament Speaker Suleiman Wahdan said the government of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli has been pro-active in combating the spread of the coronavirus.

“The government’s approach was also very necessary in order to not let the country face the disastrous consequences we saw in Italy and Iran,” Wahdan said. “But in the battle against the coronavirus, I think other emergency measures such as imposing a partial curfew from 7pm to 6am will help prevent an outbreak on a mass scale.”
“Other measures should include the Ministry of Industry allocating the production of hospital beds, sterilisation materials, drugs and ventilators,” Wahdan said, adding that “youth centres and sporting clubs should be also used as field hospitals in emergency cases.”

 Magdi Malak, an MP from Minya governorate, said “the partial curfew will help prevent Egypt from reaching a crisis point, which would be 1,000 citizens infected with the coronavirus.
“We are still in control of the virus, but a partial curfew is a necessity to eliminate it completely.”

MP Sharshar said “prevention is much better than treatment and this means that a curfew is a good preventive measure that will be highly effective in eliminating the virus.”

MP and journalist Mustafa Bakri said the curfew was a necessity. “Countries like China which took this measure very early were able to stem the tide of the virus. Here in Egypt the two or three-week curfew is a necessity, particularly ahead of the holy month of Ramadan which will begin on 23 April,” Bakri said.

Two MPs, however, said they are not in favour of imposing a curfew.

Galal Awara, an MP from Tanta, said a curfew is a step that is difficult for millions of citizens to deal with.

“The curfew will push citizens to hoard goods and this is not good for the economy. I think that the recent measures, such as suspending flights and tourist traffic and shutting down malls, restaurants and cafés from 7pm to 6am, are quite enough to contain the virus to zero in the next few days,” Awara said.

Ahmed Al-Sigini, head of parliament’s Local Administration Committee, said a curfew would have grave economic and social consequences.

“It is not an easy decision. There could be a limited number of curfew hours which would help deter gatherings at night and prevent any spread of the virus,” Al-Sigini said.

Parliament has taken a number of measures in recent days to protect MPs from contracting the coronavirus.

“MPs, media correspondents, and visitors will be allowed to enter parliament only after they test negative, and those who test positive will be sent to hospital,” parliament’s Secretary-General Fawzi said on Saturday.

Parliament’s decision to meet on 12 April means that its activities will be in limbo for at least three weeks. “The postponement means that meetings of parliament’s 25 committees will also be suspended until further notice,” Fawzi said.

Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee was scheduled to hold a meeting on 17 March to discuss the latest developments on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The meeting, however, was cancelled in line with the precautionary measures taken by the government to contain the coronavirus.

Hussein Eissa, head of parliament’s Budget and Planning Committee, said discussions on a number of economic and budgetary affairs will be in limbo for at least three weeks. “Parliament is scheduled to have a summer recess at the end of June or 1 July, but because of the emergency situation the schedule will dramatically change. If we are able to meet in the second half of April, we would be required to hold an intensive number of meetings,” Eissa said.

MP Tarek Metwalli said all meetings on government-drafted laws such as the public enterprise law, and the labour law and the government’s auto industry, will be suspended.

MP Bakri also said that amendments to political laws regulating the election of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the electoral districts and the exercise of political rights will be suspended.

By Monday, Egypt had registered 366 coronavirus cases, and 19 fatalities.

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the  26 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

 

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