Article 150 of the constitution requires the president to visit the House of Representatives and deliver a policy statement at the opening session. Mahmoud Fawzi, the House’s secretary-general, told reporters this week that the president is also expected to issue a presidential decree naming 28 appointees to the House.
“We are prepared. We have explored the options and the various ways an opening session in which 596 MPs will be required to take the constitutional oath can be held while observing social distancing measures,” said Fawzi.
National security expert Mohamed Qashqoush said in an article in Al-Ahram on 2 January that it will be difficult for all 596 MPs to gather in one place and take the constitutional oath.
“If every two MPs take one minute to read the oath parliament will need at least five hours to finish the session,” said Qashqoush. He proposed instead that MPs take a collective oath.
Qashqoush also pointed out that it could be risky for 596 MPs to gather in one place to listen to the president’s opening speech. “Only a selected number should attend the president’s speech while the majority of MPs follow it on television screens,” Qashqoush suggested.
The five-year term of Egypt’s outgoing parliament (2016-2021) concludes on 9 January and the new parliament, according to Fawzi, will be ready to hold meetings the day after.
A total of 540 newly elected MPs visited parliament in the last 10 days of December to receive their memberships cards. Between elections and the first session of the new House three MPs have died after contracting Covid-19, and one constituency, Deir Moas in the governorate of Minya, is vacant. “So we now have 564 instead of 568 elected MPs,” said Fawzi.
Hassan Eid, a Mostaqbal Watan Party individual candidate who won the Suez city seat on 8 December, died on 25 December. Fawzi Fata, a candidate representing the National List coalition, died on 4 December after winning a seat in the Nile Delta governorate of Daqahliya. Gamal Haggag, an individual candidate of the People’s Republican Party, died on 28 November, a few days after winning a seat in Benha, capital of the Nile Delta governorate of Qalioubiya.
According to the National Election Authority rules, party list MPs like Fata who die or lose membership are automatically replaced by reserve candidates, while in the case of individual candidates replacements are chosen via by-elections.
Elections in the Deir Moas constituency, where the poll was postponed for technical reasons, are expected to be held soon.
Egypt’s two-stage parliamentary elections were held between 24 October and 8 December. The pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party swept the polls, gaining 315 seats (53 per cent). Mostaqbal Watan’s coalition with other pro-regime political parties gives it a comfortable majority of 75 per cent in the new parliament.
According to Fawzi, the new parliament comprises 472 party-based MPs, 93 independent deputies, 147 women, 31 Christian MPs, and 64 deputies aged 35 or less.
Leftist MPs told reporters they will seek to form an opposition bloc in an attempt to offer a counterbalance to the large pro-regime majority.
Ahmed Al-Sharkawi, a leftist MP who won a seat in Mansoura city in the governorate of Daqahliya, noted that most of the left-leaning members of the 25-30 group in the outgoing parliament had lost their seats.
“Only two of the 25-30 group of MPs retained their seats, myself and Diaaeddin Dawoud, the Nasserist MP representing Damietta,” said Al-Sharkawi, “and we are currently holding talks with independent MPs and leftist political parties, including Tagammu and the Egyptian Socialist Democratic parties, to form an opposition bloc in the new parliament.”
Tagammu and the Egyptian Socialist Democratic parties each won 13 seats.
“A healthy parliamentary life requires a strong opposition bloc that includes MPs from different political backgrounds, particularly ones with leftist platforms,” said Al-Sharkawi.
Many of the new MPs visiting parliament in the last two weeks told reporters that discussing and reviewing Egypt’s human rights record is high on their agendas.
Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, a young MP and a member of the National Council for Human Rights, told reporters on 28 December that Egypt has gone a long way in improving its human rights record and is currently doing its best to raise living standards. Referring to resolutions on the human rights situation in Egypt issued last month by the European Parliament, he said: “These resolutions are part of the ferocious attacks and campaigns led by politicised Western institutions that issue reports based on misguided and biased information. Our responsibility in Egypt’s new parliament is to stand up to these malicious reports and to discuss the human rights situation in Egypt in an open and candid way.”
“We have nothing to hide about human rights in Egypt. We should treat foreign reports on the subject seriously, discuss them in a logical way and respond to them through dialogue and an exchange of views,” he said, “Some Western media outlets insist that US President-elect Joe Biden will press Egypt over democracy and human rights. We have nothing to hide and know how to protect our country and keep it safe and stable.”
Ayman Abul-Ela, an MP affiliated with the Reform and Development Party, also told reporters that the human rights file in Egypt will take prominence in the new parliament and Egypt should develop a new strategy to deal with this.
“Greater coordination between parliament’s Human Rights Committee, the Foreign Ministry and the National Council for Human Rights is needed to expose the double standards and politicised reports of some Western organisations,” said Abul-Ela.
Mohamed Al-Husseini, a member of the National Movement Party, said resolutions on human rights in Egypt issued this month by the European Parliament reflect radical liberal Western views. Al-Husseini also believes the last report issued by the European Parliament was based on information provided by hostile movements like the Muslim Brotherhood.
“They used Muslim Brothers as sources for information in their report without seeking a counterbalance from local Egyptian organisations or the Foreign Ministry,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.