The Egyptian parliament's Media and Culture Committee approved Tuesday a legislative amendment aimed at granting president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi the right to reshuffle the Higher Press Council, the body in charge of naming editors and board chairmen of state-owned press organizations.
The amendment, proposed by independent MP and journalist Mostafa Bakri and another 324 MPs, aims at changing Article 86 of the Press Law (law 96/1996) to allow the president to issue a decree that gives him the power to appoint a Higher Press Council for one temporary term until the new law on the regulation of the press is passed by parliament.
The amendment states that the new Higher Press Council will have the same powers that were granted to the now defunct upper house of the Shura Council and will also name new editors and board chairmen of state-run press organizations.
Bakri told the committee meeting that the amendment is an important and necessary measure as the legal term of the current Higher Press Council, which is in charge of naming editors and board chairmen of national press organizations, expired last January.
"As you also know, the new laws aimed at regulating the media and the press, as stipulated by the new constitution, will take some time to be passed by parliament," said Bakri
"In light of this fact, it will be illegal for editors and board chairmen of most national press organizations to remain staying in their positions for another term and so it was important to hurry up introducing this amendment to fill this legal gap," Bakri added.
Bakri insisted that the amendment does not have political dimensions.
"The amendment just grants the president of the republic the right to appoint a new Higher Press Council as the legal term of the current one has expired and it no longer has the legal capacity to name new editors and board chairmen of national press organizations," he said.
Osama Heikal, chairman of parliament's media committee, told MPs that "the amendments grant the president of the republic the right to reshuffle the Higher Press Council for a temporary period of time until new media and press regulation laws are passed."
"The new media and press regulation laws, which are currently being revised by the State Council, will take some time in parliament to be discussed and passed and as a result this legislative amendment is important to help national press organizations perform their job legally," Heikal continued.
Bakri said the amendment will also help settle a number of legal disputes that arose after the legal term of the Higher Press Council expired last January.
Osama Sharshar, an independent MP and journalist, criticized the way the legislative amendment was rammed through the media committee.
"This surprising speed – in around one hour - reminds me of the way how laws were passed in less than 24 hours under the regime of (former president Hosni) Mubarak," said Sharshar, who urged MPs to wait until the new laws on media and press regulations are referred to parliament.
"These laws, which are being revised by the state council, will be referred to parliament within two weeks and [it is] better to wait for this short period of time instead of resorting to needless exceptional measure," said Sharshar.
Khaled Youssef, an independent MP and a high-profile film director, also highly criticized the amendment, crying foul that it gives president El-Sisi " exceptional power".
"Rather than discussing a legislative amendment in record speed, and rather than granting the president an exceptional and undemocratic power, we have to exert pressure on the government and the state council to refer the unified law on the regulation of the media and the press as soon as possible," said Youssef.
He also argued that, "while president El-Sisi has announced many times that he wants to make Egypt a modern democratic state, we see that this amendment goes against this direction."
Heikal said a report about the new legislative amendment will be prepared by the committee to be discussed by parliament during a plenary session.
"And I expect this report to be discussed by parliament next week," he said.