Egypt's Senate gets down to business

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 10 Mar 2021

Presidential appointees and representatives from three political parties swept elections in the Senate’s 14 committees this week

The Senate gets down to business
photo: Khaled Meshaal

Following a three-month recess, the Senate, Egypt’s consultative second chamber of parliament, resumed plenary meetings on Monday by holding elections for its 14 committees.

The final results showed that senators appointed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi were elected heads of eight committees. These include Ibrahim Hegazi, an Al-Ahram journalist, for the Youth and Sports Committee; Mahmoud Mosallam, editor-in-chief of Al-Watan newspaper, for the Media, Culture, Antiquities and Tourism Committee; and Mohamed Zaki Gazar, a physician, for the Health and Population Committee.

Hegazi told reporters that the Youth and Sports Committee will focus on implementing the constitution’s articles related to exercising sports. “The number of young people in Egypt stands at 23 million and all of them should be involved in sports activities one way or another,” Hegazi said, adding that “the committee will hold sessions on the role of youth clubs and centres in protecting young people from drug addiction and preparing many of them to be sports champions.”

Mosallam said the Media, Culture, and Tourism Committee had a big job ahead. “The sectors of media and tourism in particular were badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Mosallam, explaining that while national press organisations and state television and radio are suffering from a financial squeeze, the tourism sector is living a crisis of dwindling tourist numbers and receipts. “The committee will invite tourism officials and media experts to discuss the problems facing the two sectors and I think we can find solutions to these problems in the coming stage,” Mosallam said.

Mohamed Shabana, an appointed member of the Media, Culture, and Tourism Committee, said the committee will hold meetings with officials chairing the three media organisations: the National Press Organisation, the National Media Organisation, and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation to discuss media problems. “We will do our best to support these three organisations to help them find solutions to the financial and technical problems facing national press organisations and the state-owned radio and television sector,” said Shabana.

The list of appointed members who were elected chairs of the Senate committees includes Youssef Amer for the Religious and Waqf (Endowments) Affairs Committee; Hanan Abul-Azm for the Industry, Trade and, Small-scale Projects Committee; Mustafa Kamel for the Housing, Local Administration, and Transport Committee; Abdallah Assr for the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee; and Osama Al-Guindi for the Defence and National Security Committee.

The results also indicate that representatives of three political parties were elected heads of six committees. Candidates of the majority Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland) Party swept the election of three committees. These include Mohamed Hiba for the Human Rights and Social Solidarity Committee, Abdel-Salam Al-Gabali for the Agriculture and Irrigation Committee, and Abdel-Hayy Ebeid for the Foreign, Arab, and African Affairs Committee.

Ebeid, a professor of history at Helwan University, faced stiff competition from Abdel-Moneim Said, a prominent Al-Ahram political analyst and board chairman of the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. Said, who ran as an independent, lost after the majority members of the Mostaqbal Watan Party rallied behind Ebeid.

Ebeid told reporters that the Foreign, Arab and African Affairs Committee will hold a meeting in the next few days to discuss pressing international issues facing Egypt, including the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the political developments in neighbouring Libya and Sudan, relations with the United States, and the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The secretary-general of the liberal-oriented Wafd Party Hani Sarieddin was elected head of the Financial, Economic, and Investment Affairs Committee. Sarieddin is a lawyer and legal expert in investment and economic reform issues.

Nabil Dibis, chairman of the Modern Egypt Party, was elected head of the Education, Scientific Research, Telecommunication, and Information Technology Committee.

Abdel-Khalek Ayad, a former chairman of the General Petroleum Organisation and a member of the liberal-oriented Reform and Development Party, was elected head of the Energy, Environment, and Labour Force.

Mahmoud Othman, the Senate’s secretary-general, told reporters that the election of the leading posts of the 14 committees was held in an atmosphere of democracy and transparency. “Each senator was asked to join two committees and elect a chairman, two deputies and one secretary-general for each committee,” said Othman, indicating that “while 10 candidates were elected heads of committees unopposed, there was strong competition among candidates in four committees.”

Othman said the two committees of housing and foreign affairs came out on top in terms of the number of members. “While the Housing Committee includes 45 members, that of the foreign, Arab, and African affairs include 31,” said Othman.

Senate Speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek told members that the election of the leading posts of 14 committees opens the door for the chamber to exercise its constitutional and legal responsibilities. “I hope that all senators will be up to these responsibilities and will do their best to guarantee that the Senate plays a prominent and influential role in Egyptian politics,” Abdel-Razek said.

Article 284 of the constitution states that the 300-member Senate is tasked mainly with discussing proposed constitutional amendments, national socio-economic development plans, international treaties and alliances, and draft laws referred by the president or the House of Representatives.

Othman told reporters that no draft laws have so far been referred to the Senate to discuss in the coming stage. “The Senate’s next plenary meeting will be held on 21 March and by that date I think we will have a busy agenda to debate,” Othman said.

The election of the leading posts of the Senate’s committees came after President Al-Sisi ratified the chamber’s internal bylaws on 4 March.

“The bylaws, which establish the Senate’s 14 committees, were passed by the House of Representatives on 16 February and published in the official gazette on 4 March,” said Othman, indicating that “the presidential ratification of the internal bylaws opened the door for the Senate to hold its plenary session on Monday and hold committee elections.”

The Senate’s bylaws include some controversial articles. Article 234 requires senators to secure the speaker’s approval before travelling abroad. Senators who travel abroad at the chamber’s request or for specific missions are not required to seek prior approval.

Article 284 states that senators will receive a basic monthly salary of LE5,000, the Senate speaker receives a salary on par with the prime minister, and the speaker’s two deputies the same salaries as cabinet ministers. The senators’ salaries will not be exempted from taxes.

Article 155 sets a quorum of 200 senators for meetings to be valid.

Article 164 allows the Senate to hold closed-door meetings at the request of the president, the prime minister, the speaker, or a minimum of 20 senators, to discuss issues related to sovereign interests or hear statements and clarifications on decisions related to significant domestic and foreign policies.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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