Egypt MPs warn harsh economic measures could spark street protests
Gamal Essam El-Din, Sunday 21 Feb 2016
A large number of Egypt MPs warn that any government plans for phasing out subsidies could spark wide-scale street protest


Many Egyptian MPs are warning the government against "any shocking measures" that might hit hard poor and limited-income classes.

The MPs say they insisted in their meetings with Prime Minister Sherif Ismail that they will strongly oppose any further devaluation of the Egyptian pound or even any partial phasing-out of subsidies on electricity and water.

The MPs' warnings come a few weeks after they voted down the controversial Civil Service law that was targeted at reforming the government's administrative sector. MPs said the law would negatively affect the lives of 6.4 million state employees.

Anwar Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development Party, told Ahram Online that most independent MPs stand against the government taking any measures that might cause a new reduction in the lives of ordinary citizens.

"Poor citizens have suffered a lot in recent weeks due to the government's repeated devaluation of the Egyptian pound against the dollar, and they cannot bear any longer the burdens of any further harsh economic decisions," said Sadat.

Sadat disclosed that he and many independent MPs have sent the prime minister a letter warning him that any further devaluation of the Egyptian pound or phasing out subsidies on electricity and water, or raising the cost of travel on the Cairo Metro system could spark wide-scale street protests.

Sadat said independent MPs have urged the government of prime minister Ismail to concentrate instead on fighting corruption and eliminating all forms of extravagance in government offices.

"MPs told PM Ismail to seek other policies such as imposing higher taxes on business tycoons, prevent senior officials from making costly foreign visits, and stop using luxurious items such as Mercedes cars in government ministries," argued Sadat, adding that "MPs are in support of raising custom duties on imported luxury items, but not on goods that are vital to the lives of poor classes."

Mohamed Zeineddin, an MP affiliated with the Support Egypt parliamentary bloc, said that "while MPs are aware of the current dollar crisis which led Egypt's import bill to spiral out of control and exert huge pressure on the country's foreign exchange reserves, we also urge the government not to let poor classes bear the burden of this crisis."

"This is what we told prime minister Ismail in our private meetings with him, and he agreed that vulnerable classes should not bear the cost of reform," said Zeineddin, adding that "we will wait and see how the government's policy statement will come out and we will try to reach common ground on any package of economic reform measures."

Prime minister Ismail told a number of editors-in-chief in the last few days that he will not use his statement to the House of Representatives to unveil any "shocking measures."

"The government does not believe in shock tactics, and we prefer to work towards our goals gradually," said Ismail, indicating that "the new package of economic reforms will mainly focus on raising custom tariffs on many imported goods in order to both generate more sovereign revenues and give a boost to national industry."

Independent MP Ahmed Mostafa Abdel-Wahed, however, believes that the government aims to devalue the Egyptian pound to more than LE8 against the dollar.

"We warned PM Ismail against this step and told him that it would raise prices of basic goods to dramatic levels," Abdel-Wahed said, adding that he “told Ismail that when the government surprised parliament with devaluing the pound and cutting down subsidies in 1977, the result was violent street protests and food riots in Cairo and other major cities.”

Abdel-Wahed also warned that the government's policy statement comes at a time when there is a lot of resentment in parliament against the recent “arbitrary practices” of policemen against ordinary citizens.

"The government is required to fight corruption, discipline the interior ministry and rationalise spending before talking about any economic reform measures," said Abdel-Wahed, adding that "it will be like pouring oil on fire when PM Ismail comes in these tense conditions to announce harsh economic measures."

Alaa Abdel-Moneim, spokesman of the Support Egypt bloc, said MPs have asked the government to delay its policy statement before parliament.

"We told Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi El-Agati that it will be quite difficult for prime minister Sherif Ismail to come to parliament on 27 February to deliver his policy statement," said Abdel-Moneim.

"Parliament will need around one month to discuss and endorse its new internal-by laws and code of conduct," he said. "Besides, we cannot discuss the statement before the House's 28 committees are created."

He told reporters that "the first of April is a very good date for the government to deliver its policy statement."

Egypt's parliament is scheduled to holding a plenary session on Sunday.

Abdel-Moneim said that before the session, parliament's internal bureau – including the speaker and two deputies – will discuss forming two committees; one for discussing president Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi's speech before parliament on 13 February and another one on reviewing the government's new amendments of the controversial Civil Service Law.

The debates of Sunday's session are expected to focus on discussing a resignation request submitted by appointed MP and former high-profile judge Sirri Siam and reviewing a report on parliament's new by-laws and code of conduct.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/188165.aspx