Two political blocs compete for power in Egypt's parliament
Gamal Essam El-Din, Saturday 2 Apr 2016
Battlelines in Egypt's new parliament are being drawn, with two coalitions of MPs likely to emerge, based on the distribution of key posts, rather than ideology or political platforms

The internal bylaws of Egypt's parliament – the House of Representatives – were finally passed in a plenary session 30 March. They are expected to be ratified byPresident Abdel-Fattah El-Sisiand then issued into a law this week.

According to Article 97 of the new bylaws, MPs are allowed to join ranks in parliamentary blocs, butfor a parliamentary bloc to be officially recognised, it must be supported by a minimum of 25 per cent of MPs drawn from at least 15governorates.

RamiMohsen, manager of the National Centre for Parliamentary Consultancies(NCPC), says the ratification of the bylaws this week will compel MPs to join blocs.

"All MPs know that the ratification of the bylawswill be immediately followedby formingparliamentary committees, and in order to compete for the leading posts of these committees they must be members of powerful blocs," saidMohsen.

Mohsenexpects that the 25 per cent stipulation will result in two main political blocs being formed and officially recognised by parliament.

"The largest bloc will be the Support Egypt coalition, comprising around 300 MPs(around 50 per cent)andlargely supportive of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi'spolitical agenda," saidMohsen.

Article 90 of the bylaws requires the heads of parliamentary coalitions to submit a complete list of MP members, along with the coalition's own governingregulations, to the house's internal bureau (the speaker and two deputies) before the bloc isofficially recognised.

Leaders of Support Egypt announced last weekthat the coalition's regulations have already been drafted.

"Right now we arefinalising ourlist of nominees for the leading posts of parliamentary committees," said OsamaHeikal, a formerminister of information and currently head of the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC).

Heikaldenied that Support Egypt is a replication of former president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

"Under the NDP, the election of heads of parliamentary committees was just a cosmetic procedure," saidHeikal, adding, "But in the new parliament there are different political forces which will stronglycompete for the leading posts ofparliamentarycommittees."

"Support Egypt is not a political party, like the NDP; it just aims tocoordinate positions among the largest possible number of MPs on a number of national issues that will require consensus inparliament," saidHeikal.

The Free Egyptians Party in

Worry and anxiety has, however, dominated the circles of the Support Egypt coalition after the Free Egyptians Party (with 65 seats) announced that it is in the process of forming an opposition parliamentary bloc.

"This bloc willbecomposed ofno less than 150 MPs(around 25 per cent), with some coming from political parties and others acting as independents," saidAlaaAbed, parliamentary spokesman of the Free Egyptians Party.He said the bloc will be entitled the "Free Egyptians-Independents Alliance in parliament."

Speculation is rife in parliamentary circles that a big number of Support Egypt MPs have decided to withdraw from its ranks,deciding to join the parliamentary bloc to be formed by the Free Egyptians Party.

"Disappointed bythe monopolistic practices of its leaders over the last two months, many MPs whohadagreed at first to sign up to the Support Egypt coalition decided to leave it in favour of joining our parliamentary bloc,"Abed disclosed.

Abed acknowledges, however, that some of those who decided to withdraw fromthe Support Egypt coalition did so after it had refused to include them on the list of its nominees for leading posts in parliamentary committees. "They have theright to withdraw, and we welcome them into our ranks," said Abed.

BahaaeddinAbuShuqqa, parliamentary spokesman of theWafdParty(with 63 MPs),told reportersthat "WafdistMPs will not be part of any coalition," and that "they preferto be an independent bloc."

Abed told reporters that the parliamentary alliance led by the Free Egyptians Party does not aim to be "an adversary" to the pro-Sisi Support Egypt coalition.

"Our bloc just doesn't want to see one political force dominate parliamentarybusiness, or impose its say on all MPs," said Abed, stressing that "There should be a diversity of parliamentary coalitions, because thisis a necessity forbuildinga pluraldemocracy in Egypt."

Support Egypt and the Free Egyptians call themselves"parliamentary blocs in support of moderate liberal policies," as opposed to the 25-30 coalition, largely composed of leftists, which strongly believes in the ideals of the two revolutionsof 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013: socialjustice, greater political freedoms and establishing a functioning democracy.

The 25-30 coalition includes some prominent leftist MPs such as film directorKhaledYoussef,HaithamAl-Hariri, Mustafa Al-Guindi, and four members affiliated with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party.

The NCPC's manager, RamiMohsen, says that though few in number, members of the 25-30 coalition were able to rally most MPs behind their rejection of the government-drafted civil service law and in support of stripping independent MPTawfikOkashaof parliamentary membership after he met with Israel's ambassador to Egypt.

"The creation of a leftist parliamentary bloc is a necessity to strike a balance with liberal blocs, but the problem is that the number of leftists inparliament is too small to form a bloc," saidMohsen.

Mohsenbelieves that "real diversity in Egypt's parliamentshould meandiversity inpolitical forcesinside Egypt's House of Representatives."

"I meanthat realdiversity should be based on factions with different political ideologies andplatforms, rather than ontwo main leading forces with similar political positions, and that compete only for power in parliament," saidMohsen.