MPs used parliament’s opening session on Tuesday to attack the government of Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli. Minister of Supply Ali Moselhi was the subject of particular ire for his decision to reduce the number of citizens eligible for ration cards.
The attack came amid speculation a cabinet reshuffle is imminent, and against the backdrop of a hostile media campaign, orchestrated by Qatari and Turkish TV channels which for two weeks have been urging Egyptians to protest in the street.
Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs “parliament will never allow cabinet ministers and provincial governors to export problems to the president of the republic.” Instead, he said, “parliament will use all the supervisory tools at its disposal to keep a close watch on the government’s performance.
“When the nation faced a hostile media campaign, it was ordinary citizens of this great nation that stood up to this campaign,” argued Deputy Speaker Al-Sayed Al-Sherif. “In response, the government must do its best to serve the interests of ordinary citizens who have suffered greatly as a result of harsh economic reform measures.”
Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, leader of the majority Support Egypt coalition, said parliament’s final session should see MPs and the government cooperating in an attempt to solve the problems ordinary citizens face in their daily lives.
Sayed Abdel-Aal, head of the leftist Tagammu Party, insisted that while “International Monetary Fund-inspired economic reform policies have left millions of citizens under the poverty line, instead of doing its best to help citizens the government has continued to act as if it was business as usual.
“The Egyptian people do not need a government of technocrats and university professors. We need dynamic cabinet ministers who can go out on the streets, identify the problems people face, and find solutions.”
Abdel-Aal also argued the latest round of hostile media attacks made it clear that those who advocated reconciliation with political Islam are barking up the wrong tree.
“President [Abdel-Fattah] Al-Sisi has said there will never be any reconciliation with political Islam but there are those who want to move in the opposite direction,” said Abdel-Aal.
“The coalition which led the 30 June Revolution should re-band and stand up to the hostile forces which seek to disrupt our country.”
Hala Abul-Saad, parliamentary spokesperson of the Conservatives Party, said “some cabinet ministers, like the minister of industry, have so far failed to achieve anything while others, like the minister of supply and the minister of social solidarity, have actually made life harder for a lot of citizens.
“Given this is the case, shouldn’t the government leave office at once? Let’s have a new cabinet that can act in the interests of citizens, shoulder responsibility, draft realistic development programmes and relieve people of some of the burdens they face on a daily basis.”
Independent MP Emad Mahrous also argued the government should be fired immediately, adding that should this prove too much of an upheaval “failed cabinet ministers should have the decency to leave”.
Mahrous claimed Minister of Supply Moselhi had misled the public.
“He said in a TV interview that no citizens had been stripped of their ration cards. This was untrue and caused a lot of tension on the Egyptian street.”
Following Moselhi’s TV interview with Amr Adib, broadcast on Sunday, President Al-Sisi tweeted that citizens will never be deprived of ration cards. Immediately rumours began that those with cards would be able to access more subsidised goods.
MP Mustafa Bakri argues “the coming period should witness reconciliation between the government and ordinary citizens.
“We need to see a rapprochement with average-income classes who have been crushed beneath harsh economic reform measures. And we need some form of reconciliation with the national media which has lost much of its influence because of censorship.”
Bakri also demanded parliament exercise its supervisory role with more diligence. At the moment, he said, “the government can ignore parliament because MPs do not ask the right questions.
“Political life has died and we must do everything possible to resuscitate it. If citizens do not see tangible improvement in public services and in their living conditions we could well be on the path that leads to another 25 January.”
Speaker Abdel-Aal told Bakri “initiatives will be taken in the coming period to revive Egypt’s political life.”
Bahaaeddin Abu Shokka, head of the Wafd Party and of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said “the Wafd Party is on the side of the state and of President Al-Sisi in this battle against hostile media attacks.”
He added that, “in order to be able to stand up to these attacks, the local media should be allowed greater freedoms”.
Ahmed Helmi Al-Sherif, Congress Party spokesperson, said cabinet ministers need to change their strategies.
“Too many of them stay in their air-conditioned offices, refusing to have any contact with ordinary citizens. This must change, and change now.”
Ahmed Khairallah, parliamentary spokesperson of the Islamist Nour Party, lamented that “the hostile campaign against Egypt is being orchestrated by fugitives living in Qatar and Turkey.
“It aims to disrupt the country, and turn Egyptians into refugees, as has happened to Syrians, Libyans and Yemenis. There might well be corruption and mismanagement but this does not mean we should allow conspirators to disrupt our country.”
Parliamentary Spokesperson Salah Hassaballah said President Al-Sisi had sided with the Egyptian people in 2013 to save the country from a tyrannical group which had tried to kidnap the nation and force its religious agenda on Egyptians.
“When he came to office in 2014 Egypt was in a state of turmoil,” said Hassaballah, “the first thing Al-Sisi did was to tell the people the truth — that the country needed bitter medicine to be relieved of its economic pains.
“Economic reform was unavoidable. Many citizens were negatively impacted. What we must do now is try our best to improve their lives rather than pour more oil on a fire ignited by hostile media attacks.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.