High-profile businessmen MPs to play big role in Egypt's new parliament: Analysts

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 5 Dec 2015

On Thursday president Sisi assured a group of prominent businessmen that his govt supports a key role for them in economy; analysts also expect businessmen newly elected to parliament will have a strong say on laws

The new Egyptian parliament is set to convene before the end of the year (Photo: Reuters)

After more one year in office, Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi at last decided to hold a meeting with a group of the country's most high-profile businessmen.

The meeting, held on Thursday, came after several press reports suggesting that El-Sisi was not satisfied with the performance of Egyptian businessmen. 

They cited reasons such as the refusal of several businessmen to donate money to El-Sisi's Tahya Masr (“Long Live Egypt”) fund, and the fact that TV satellite channels and newspapers owned by some of these businessmen never stop portraying El-Sisi and his policies in negative terms.

According to Mohamed El-Amin, owner of the CBC satellite channels, "President El-Sisi seized the meeting to send a message of reassurance to Egyptian investors and businessmen that his regime does not intend to launch a crackdown campaign against businessmen."

"El-Sisi also wanted to dismiss rumours that he is against the private sector or that he aims to reinstate the nationalisation policies of the 1960s,” he said.

El-Sisi's meeting with businessmen also came one day before the High Elections Committee in charge of supervising Egypt's two-stage parliamentary elections announced the final election results.

Those results show that generous financial support by businessmen has helped three political parties emerge as the main winners at the end of the polls.

A considerable number of high-profile businessmen were able to win seats either as independents or as candidates running on the list of the "For the Love of Egypt" electoral coalition, which supports El-Sisi.

Committee head Ayman Abbas said at a press conference on Friday that three secular political parties have gained the lion's share of seats in the coming parliament. These – the Free Egyptians Party, the Future of a Homeland, and the Wafd – have gained 148 seats (around 30 percent), while 17 political parties have gained 88 seats only.

The Free Egyptians Party was founded by Naguib Sawiris, a business tycoon with multiple domestic and foreign investments in telecommunications, tourism, real estate, and the media.

Sawiris is one of few Egyptian investors who has also made a lot of money doing business with the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

His party, founded in April 2011, just two months after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from office, is based on a liberal ideology that promotes a larger role for businessmen and private investors in political life, and encourages Egyptian Christians to more actively participate in political life.

Sawiris said in television interview last month that the objective of the Free Egyptians in the coming period is to expand into the whole of Egypt in order to phase out the influence of Islamist forces – especially the Muslim Brotherhood – in rural areas and raise the awareness of ordinary citizens of the importance of secular and liberal values in building a democratic Egypt.

The party came top in the parliamentary elections, winning 65 seats (around 13 percent) in the coming parliament, compared to 14 seats (2.8 per cent) in the 2011/2012 parliamentary elections

The Future of a Homeland is another liberal pro-Sisi political party; it came into being after the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. The party, founded by young activist Mohamed Badran in 2014, received generous financial support from two high-profile businessmen: steel tycoon Ahmed Abu Hashima and major food industrialist Mohamed Farag Amer. Abu Hashima and Farag were among the businessmen who attended the meeting with El-Sisi on 3 December.

The Future of a Homeland has gained 51 seats (around 10 percent) in the new parliament.

The Wafd Party, Egypt's oldest liberal party, is currently headed by business tycoon El-Sayed El-Badawi, has gained 32 seats (around 7 percent), compared to the 38 seats (7.5 percent) the party won in 2012's poll.

The above three non-religious political forces also form the backbone of the pro-Sisi coalition For the Love of Egypt. This coalition, which gained all 120 seats (23 percent) reserved for party lists, also includes a number of high-profile businessmen.

Topping the list of major businessmen who won seats as candidates with For the Love of Egypt are oil business tycoon and head of the Conservatives Party Akmal Qortam; electical cable manufacturer Mohamed Zaki El-Sewedy; automobile tycoon Mohamed Wagih Abaza; chairman of Alexandria's Borg Al-Arab Industrial Community Mohamed Farag Amer; the daughter of late construction tycoon and former National Democratic Party MP Talaat Mostafa, Sahar Talaat Mostafa.

Among the businessmen who also won seats designated for individuals is Talaat El-Sewedy, another electricity cable tycoon who won in the Nile Delta governorate of Sharqiya as a candidate representing the Wafd Party. El-Sewedy is a former MP affiliated with former president Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

Mahmoud Khamis, a major textile industrialist who is the brother of Mohamed Farid Khamis, a former NDP official, also won a seat in Sharqiya governorate as an individual candidate.

Construction magnate Mahmoud Othman, the son of late housing minister and founder of the giant Arab Contractors Company Othman Ahmed Othman, also won a seat as an individual in Ismailia governorate.

According to Said Sadek, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, "the number and names of successful businessmen at the end of the polls show that they have become well-placed to exercise an influential role in the coming parliament."

“Some of them could be elected as heads of parliament's committees covering policies and legislations in areas of economy, budgetary and financial affairs, housing and industry – or the areas that best serve their business interests," said Sadek.

The businessmen's foray into Egypt's parliamentary life began in 1995 or after the government launched a massive IMF-inspired privatisation programme. Many were surprised that Mubarak selected Mohamed Abul-Enein, a leading ceramics industry tycoon, to be one of ten presidential appointees to parliament.

The role of businessmen in parliamentary and political life increased significantly with the rise of Gamal Mubarak, the youngest son of the former president, into the higher ranks of the NDP in 2000.

Businessmen were selected in that year to join Gamal in assuming NDP's higher ranks at the expense of the party's old guard, and as many as 35 businessmen were also able to win seats in parliament as NDP deputies.

On top of these was Ahmed Ezz, a steel tycoon who later became Gamal Mubarak's right-hand man and chairman of parliament's influential committee of financial and budgetary affairs.

In the 2005-2010 parliament, businessmen were able to tighten their grip on committees directly related to their businesses. Abul-Enein was elected chairman of the industry committee; Tarek Talaat Mostafa, the son of late construction magnate and MP Talaat Mostafa was elected chairman of the housing committee; and Abdallah Tayel, head of a private bank, was elected chairman of the economic affairs committee.

The businessmen's hegemony over influential committees in 2005-2010 parliament led them to come under public and media fire, especially after many of them exploited their positions to block legislation aimed at busting monopolies, freezing housing rents, or allowing gas deals with Israel.

Sadek has fears that a big number of businessmen might cause adverse effects.

"Remember that among the reasons why the people revolted against Mubarak in 2011 was that the public accused Gamal and the influential business elite around him in the NDP and parliament of using their positions to enhance their businesses at the expense of public interest,” he said.

"There is also no question that when demonstrators protested against Mubarak at Tahrir Square in January 2011, they were also protesting Gamal Mubarak and his business associate Ahmed Ezz's monopolistic and shady practices," said Sadek.  

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