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

Egyptian parliament (Reuters)
Egyptian parliament (Reuters)

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 by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and then issued into a law this week. 

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

Rami Mohsen, 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 bylaws will be immediately followed by forming parliamentary committees, and in order to compete for the leading posts of these committees they must be members of powerful blocs," said Mohsen. 

Mohsen expects 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) and largely supportive of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's political agenda," said Mohsen. 

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 governing regulations, to the house's internal bureau (the speaker and two deputies) before the bloc is officially recognised. 

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

"Right now we are finalising our list of nominees for the leading posts of parliamentary committees," said Osama Heikal, a former minister of information and currently head of the Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC). 

Heikal denied 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," said Heikal, adding, "But in the new parliament there are different political forces which will strongly compete for the leading posts of parliamentary committees."

"Support Egypt is not a political party, like the NDP; it just aims to coordinate positions among the largest possible number of MPs on a number of national issues that will require consensus in parliament," said Heikal. 

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 will be composed of no less than 150 MPs (around 25 per cent), with some coming from political parties and others acting as independents," said Alaa Abed, 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 by the monopolistic practices of its leaders over the last two months, many MPs who had agreed 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 from the 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 the right to withdraw, and we welcome them into our ranks," said Abed. 

Bahaaeddin Abu Shuqqa, parliamentary spokesman of the Wafd Party (with 63 MPs), told reporters that "Wafdist MPs will not be part of any coalition," and that "they prefer to 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 parliamentary business, or impose its say on all MPs," said Abed, stressing that "There should be a diversity of parliamentary coalitions, because this is a necessity for building a plural democracy 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 revolutions of 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013: social justice, greater political freedoms and establishing a functioning democracy. 

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

The NCPC's manager, Rami Mohsen, 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 MP Tawfik Okasha of 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 in parliament is too small to form a bloc," said Mohsen. 

Mohsen believes that "real diversity in Egypt's parliament should mean diversity in political forces inside Egypt's House of Representatives."

"I mean that real diversity should be based on factions with different political ideologies and platforms, rather than on two main leading forces with similar political positions, and that compete only for power in parliament," said Mohsen.

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