Businessmen MPs could form lobby in Egypt's new parliament

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 30 Apr 2016

After they were elected chairmen of at least five parliamentary committees, many wonder if businessmen will move to form a new lobby in Egypt's new parliament

Members of Egypt's Parliament attend the inaugural session, the first to convene in three years, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 (AP)

In a plenary session 23 April, independent MP and journalist Osama Sharshar complained that many businessmen MPs decided to run to head parliamentary committees related to their business interests. 

"I see that a lot of businesspeople MPs want to run in the elections that will be held today for the leading posts of parliament's 25 committees and I warn of potential conflicts of interest in this respect," said Sharshar, adding: "Businesswoman MP Sahar Talaat Mostafa, for instance, owns a tourism company and now she runs to be elected head of the tourism committee. Could there be a clearer case of conflict of interest?"

Sharshar told parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al, "You, as parliament speaker and constitutional law professor, have a main responsibility to make sure that committees in areas such as tourism, industry, housing, and energy will not fall into the hands of businessmen because there will be conflicts of interest."

In response, parliamentary speaker Abdel-Al insisted that he does not agree with Sharshar's complaint. "Conflicts of interest occur only if a committee head exploits his post to serve his own business interests," he said, adding that, "And if this occurs, I will move swiftly to stand up to this exploitation in accordance with parliament's internal bylaws and the constitution."

Sharshar told parliamentary reporters that, "While the lesson of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood revolution in 2013 was that we should not mix religion and politics, we should always remember the main lesson of the 2011 revolution against Mubarak: that we should not mix business with politics." 

"Are we back again to the days when businessmen under Hosni Mubarak's parliaments and who were close to his young son and heir apparent, Gamal, were able to form lobbies targeted at acquiring political power and parliamentary immunity to serve their own business interests?" asked Sharshar.

When the elections for the leading posts of parliament's 25 committees were held 23 April, businesspeople emerged as winning the lion's share of leading posts. At least five businesspeople were elected to head committees directly related to their business interests, a fact that led many to warn that a new Mubarak-style businessmen lobby is being formed in Egypt's new parliament.

Results show that businesswoman MP and member of the pro-government parliamentary bloc "Support Egypt" Sahar Talaat Mostafa was elected head of the tourism and civil aviation committee.

Mostafa's late father, Talaat, was a leading building contractor (founder of the giant Alexandria Contracting Company and Talaat Mostafa Group), deputy chairman of parliament's housing committee and chairman of Alexandria's Businessmen Association in the 1990s.

Sahar's two brothers, Tarek and Hisham, were also former MPs. Tarek, Talaat's older son, was elected chairman of parliament's housing committee in 2005. In 2010's parliamentary elections, the last under the Mubarak regime, he spent LE1 million in donations to Mubarak's now-defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to be an official candidate on its list in Alexandria.

As for Hisham, Talaat's younger son and whose company built the East Cairo high-class suburbs of Al-Rehab and Madinaty, he was deputy chairman of the defunct Shura Council's housing committee. Hisham, who also donated millions to the charitable activities of Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, is currently serving 15 years in prison for having a role in the murder of Lebanese actress Suzanne Tamim.

Sahar, who is in charge of Alex Tours Company, one of Talaat Mostafa Group's holdings, was elected unopposed.

Alexandria industrialist and "Support Egypt" official Mohamed Farag Amer was elected head of the youth and sports committee. Amer, board chairman of the association of investors in Borg Al-Arab industrial city, west of Alexandria, said he preferred to run to chair the sports and youth committee. Amer, chairman of Alexandria's Semouha Sporting Club, was elected chairman of the committee unopposed.

While two of Alexandria's high-profile businesspeople swept two committees related to their businesses, a major Cairo industrialist — Mohamed Zaki Al-Sewedy — was elected head of the industry committee. Al-Sewedy, chairman of the Egyptian Federation of Industries, is a major producer of electric cables and engineering equipment. Al-Sewedy's father — Zaki Sadeq — was the founder of Al-Sewedy Group and a member of the now-defunct Shura Council, the erstwhile upper house of parliament.

Talaat Al-Sewedy, Mohamed Al-Sewedy's cousin and a member of parliament since 2000, was elected to head the energy and environment committee. Talaat Al-Sewedy, a leading member of the liberal Al-Wafd Party, is an accountant with a lot of business interests in the energy, lighting and electric cables industry.

Al-Sewedy family belongs to the Nile Delta governorate of Sharqiya, but most, if not all, of their businesses are located in Downtown Cairo's Al-Alfi Street.

Upper Egypt businessmen had also a share in heading parliamentary committees. Moataz Mohamed Mahmoud, chairman of the  Mubarak-affiliated Freedom Party, was elected head of the housing committee. Moataz's father, the late Mohamed Mahmoud Ali Hassan, had been chairman of parliament's housing committee and parliamentary spokesperson of Mubarak's NDP. He was also the founder of Upper Egypt Qena Cement Company, which Moataza now heads.

Moataz's Freedom Party was set up in 2011, managing to win five seats in the 2012 Islamist-dominated parliament.

A report released by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) notes that in an age of free enterprise, it is natural that business seeks to gain political power. "Even if the revolution against Mubarak was mainly provoked by the dramatic rise in influence of businesspeople and the mixing of their interests with politics, we see that businessmen began to gain ground again, especially with the regime of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi mainly depending on private sector investments," reads the report.

ACPSS's report shows that around 600 businesspeople ran in last year's parliamentary elections, but only around 40 were able to win seats. "Some of these cannot be called businessmen in the true sense of the word, but they can be called wealthy merchants who are not members of any organised businessmen or investment associations, like the high-profile Egyptian Businessmen Association or the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham)," the report said.

The report, issued at the end of the elections last December, warned of a new "businessmen's lobby in Egypt's new parliament", or House of Representatives.

Commenting on the results of parliamentary committee elections last week, Amr Hashem Rabie, a political analyst with ACPSS, warned in a TV interview that "a new businessmen lobby could take shape in Egypt's new parliament." 

"But from what I have seen so far, the elections of heads of parliamentary committees were held in a democratic atmosphere, and no elected head of a committee can exploit his position to serve his interests, as was the case under Mubarak's parliaments," added Rabie. "Let's wait and see how businessmen will run their committees and how they will debate economic and investment laws," he said.

Rabie also notes that the two main influential committees that were controlled by businessmen affiliated with Mubarak's NDP and close to his liberal-minded son Gamal — the economic affairs committee and the budget and planning committee — are headed by two independent figures: Ali Al-Moselhi, a former Mubarak-era minister of social solidarity, and Hassan Eissa, a professor of commerce and former president of Ain Shams University. 

"This sends early signals that forming a business lobby could be quite difficult in the short run, though it could be possible in the long run," said Rabie.

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