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Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Egypt's House of Representatives: Five years gone

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 25 Aug 2020
Five years gone
Five years gone
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The House of Representatives held the final meeting of its current term on Monday. Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs: “Today is the end of the House’s five-year term and I am happy we were able to play our roles to the end. When this parliament held its first meeting in early 2016, some said it would be unable to complete its term or effectively play its role as a state institution.

“Some tried to isolate parliament, others to boycott it, but with patience and effort we were able to defeat all these attempts.”

The National Elections Authority (NEA) is expected to begin preparing for the House of Representatives elections by early October at the latest.

In December Abdel-Aal told MPs that Article 106 of the constitution requires elections for a new House to be held within the 60 days preceding 9 January 2021, the date the House’s five-year term officially expires, which means the poll could take place in November.

Like the 2015 parliamentary elections, the poll is likely to be split in two, with some governorates voting in late November, others in early December.

“The first phase,” says MP Mustafa Bakri,” is expected to include 14 governorates, and the second 13.”

But unlike 2015, when voters were asked to elect 120 party-based candidates and 448 independents, this time round they will elect 284 individual deputies via the individual candidacy system and 284 through the closed party lists.

A law redrawing election districts, passed on 17 August, stipulates that 25 per cent of seats be allocated to women. The president of the republic can also appoint 28 MPs to sit alongside elected representatives, bringing the total number to 596.

Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie says it is time for political parties to kick-start their election preparations. “The 2015-2020 parliament came amid very difficult circumstances, and in the end it did a reasonably good job in helping the country move forward with economic reforms, regain internal security, and rebuild relations with the outside world.”

Rabie believes that the passing of constitutional amendments in April 2019 was parliament’s most significant contribution to political life in Egypt. “This controversial package of amendments helped redraw the political roadmap of Egypt for at least 10 years.”

Speaker Abdel-Aal told MPs on Monday that the House had passed 877 laws including a total of 8,287 articles in the last five years, “covering all aspects of life in Egypt and pushing the country forward on the road of reform and development”.

In their final eight-hour meeting MPs passed 15 laws, 12 of which were already approved in principle and just needed a final nod on Monday.

They included legislation covering healthcare for patients suffering from psychological troubles, the expropriation of private property for public use, microfinance projects, the regulation of medical research, the regulation of religious endowments, and amendments to Construction Law 119/2008, Commercial Registry Law 34/1970 and Law 87/2015 regulating electricity.

New legislation on unified tax procedures and regulating universities was also passed, and a fund for supporting, financing, managing and building educational projects was established.

Abdel-Aal opted not to open a debate on a controversial law regulating Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa which was instead referred back to the Religious Affairs Committee for revision.

Drafted by the committee, the proposed legislation had been heavily criticised by Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, who said it violated Article 7 of the constitution which gives Al-Azhar absolute supervision of religious affairs, including the issuing of fatwas.

Rabie had hoped that the 2015-2020 parliament would amend the law regulating the performance of political parties.

“Political parties were very weak when parliamentary elections were held in 2015, and there are hopes that the House would amend the law regulating them to give them greater powers and open a space for competition. Unfortunately, after five years they are still very weak. Indeed, very few were capable of contesting this month’s Senate poll.”

Political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb worries that the domination of the Senate elections by the Mostaqbal Watan Party might be repeated in the House of Representatives, though he says that unlike this month’s elections where the Mostaqbal Watan-led Unified National List won unopposed, parties like the Free Egyptians and the Islamist Nour will present their own lists.

Akmal Qortam, the businessman head of the Conservatives Party, says it will be a disaster if the House elections meet with the same voter apathy as the Senate poll which attracted less than 15 per cent of voters.

Yasser Al-Hodeibi, deputy chairman of the Wafd Party, told reporters Monday that the party had mandated chairman Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka to negotiate with other political parties to explore the possibility of forming an election coalition.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

 

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