Following a two-month summer recess, the House of Representatives will hold an opening procedural sitting on Saturday amid strict anti-coronavirus measures. The Senate — Egypt’s upper consultative house — will hold its opening session on Tuesday.
House Speaker Hanafi Gibali will chair Saturday’s meeting. He will first read out Decree 418, issued last week by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, which instructs MPs to begin their legislative programme on 2 October, and then deliver a speech outlining what MPs can expect in the coming stage. MPs will then be given the opportunity to take the floor and give their own opinions on the new legislative season.
On Sunday, a procedural session will be held to allow MPS who wish to stand for positions on the House’s 25 committees to declare themselves. The house is required to elect a chairman, two deputies and one secretary-general for each committee.
Ahead of the opening session, the majority Mostaqbal Watan (Homeland’s Future) Party will hold a meeting to select its committee candidates.
Before adjourning on 27 July, the House approved amendments to its internal bylaws. The most significant change allowed political parties which have three seats, rather than the previous eight, to join the general committee which drafts the weekly schedule of debate.
Alaa Abed, a senior member of Mostaqbal Watan Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the change will help democratise the House of Representatives. “It means that 11 political parties, instead of five, will now be represented on the House’s general committee. The more political parties sit on the general committee, the more views there are to discuss,” he said.
Article 24 of parliament’s bylaws states that the general committee is led by the speaker, includes the speaker’s two deputies, heads of 25 committees, representatives of political parties with three or more seats, and five independent MPs. Under the new rules the Tagammu, the Egyptian Socialist Democratic, Nour, the Reform and Development, the Congress and Freedom parties will join the committee.
Following this week’s procedural sessions MPs face a legislative-heavy season.
Amr Darwish, deputy chairman of the Local Administration Committee, told reporters this week that the old rent law is likely to top the legislative agenda. Darwish said a public dialogue on changes to the law needs to be held to ensure amendments are fair to both landlords and tenants. “The fact is this law has remained unchanged for half a century. Owners want to unfreeze the old rents, while tenants would like to see a gradual increase in rents,” said Darwish.
In an open discussion with the Egyptian Family Initiative on 14 August, President Al-Sisi said a balance must be struck between the needs of owners and tenants. “The rent of some housing units in downtown Cairo is just LE20 a month yet their market value can exceed LE5 million. This is completely unfair for landlords,” said Al-Sisi.
MPs also expect to debate a new personal status law in the new session.
Ibrahim Al-Heneidi, chairman of the House’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told reporters on 15 September that the committee anticipated changes to the law regulating marriage, divorce, guardianship, and custody. “There is general public support for the law to be changed, and President Al-Sisi has requested a new personal status law that serves the public interest,” he said.
A new draft personal status law was presented to parliament in February, only to be withdrawn by the government after details emerged and provoked widespread public controversy.
Informed sources say the government has referred the draft law to the Justice Ministry for review, and that the ministry is in consultation with Al-Azhar, the Coptic Church, the National Council of Women and other institutions in an attempt to forge a consensus before the law is referred to parliament.
Mustafa Salem, deputy chairman of the House’s Budget Committee, said his committee’s proceedings were likely to be dominated by new general finance and unified planning laws.
“A unified planning law was referred to parliament last year then put on hold to allow the committee time to canvas the views of different bodies, most notably those of the Ministry of Local Administration and the Ministry of International Cooperation,” said Salem. The new law seeks to devolve power to governorates and allow them to formulate their own socio-economic development plans.
The general finance law, according to Salem, aims to streamline the process of preparing the annual state general budget “by imposing greater transparency and ensuring the budget guarantees the percentages spent on education, health and scientific research stipulated by the constitution.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly