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Egyptian-Saudi border deal yet to go before parliament: Speaker

Ahram Online , Saturday 25 Jun 2016
Ali Abdel Aal
An archival for Egypt's parliament speaker Ali Abdel Aal (Photo: Al Ahram)

The Egyptian-Saudi border demarcation agreement, which would place two Red Sea islands in Saudi territory, is yet to be delivered to Egypt’s parliament for ratification, said parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al in his first interview with state TV on Saturday.

Abdel-Al dismissed media reports that the agreement had already been put before parliament.

"It will be referred to the parliament’s legislative and constitutional committee to check its constitutionality and determine if it is the type of agreement that needs a public referendum."

On Tuesday, Egypt's Administrative Court voided the deal, which placed the two Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir in Saudi waters, stating that the two islands “remain Egyptian.”

However, the State Lawsuit Authority – the body representing the government in legal cases – has appealed the ruling.

“We [the parliament] will not rush at all regarding this agreement, and any citizen bearing relevant information or documents will be welcomed,” he said.

Regeni case

Abdel-Al also said that the Egyptian parliamentary delegation’s visit to the European Union parliament last April had succeeded in changing the “negative image” surrounding the murder of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni in Cairo earlier this year, though he did not give further details.

Regeni, who was in Cairo conducting research on independent trade unions, went missing on 25 January. His body was found bearing signs of severe torture by a roadside on the outskirts of the capital nine days later.

Italian officials have criticised what they described as a lack of transparency in the Egyptian investigation process.

Legislative agenda

According to the speaker, the parliament is willing to issue several new legislations before the end of the parliamentary season, which is expected for July or early August.

"We are considering discussing and issuing the law which regulates the building of churches, the transitional justice law and the local governance law," he said.

"The protest law is not among the laws that will be discussed before the end of the parliamentary season," he noted, referring to the controversial law that severely restricts protesting in the country.

Earlier this month, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdi El-Agati announced that a "governmental committee will soon meet to amend the protest law to go in line with the 2014 constitution."

Several Egyptian parliamentarians have welcomed the government’s announcement, saying they were preparing their own proposals for changes.

The law, which mandates stiff prison terms of up to three years in jail as well as hefty fines for those who protest without a government permit, was passed in November 2013 during the turbulent period that followed the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Opposition in parliament

"To be clear, this parliament is composed of the strongest opposition ever, and this was obvious when they rejected the civil service law and passed the cabinet's plan under the condition of offering MPs a detailed report of the government’s activity every six months," Abdel-Al said.

The law, which was signed by Egypt's cabinet in November 2015, has met with widespread criticism by many state employees and labour unions, aims at reforming the state's administrative apparatus in order to encourage investments by curbing notorious bureaucratic inefficiencies and streamlining hiring practices and wage-structures in government institutions.

He added that parliament has no ruling party or concrete coalitions, even though it includes more than 350 MPs who are members of the pro-state coalition "Support Egypt," including Abdel-Al himself. 

Live coverage of parliament

The speaker said that the halting of live TV coverage of parliament sessions does not mean the proceedings are not covered publicly.

"In each session there are journalists who cover proceedings, and the sessions are recorded and later broadcast," he said."The live coverage disturbs the concentration of MPs by making them focus on the cameras rather than on the discussions," he added.

Earlier this year, the majority of MPs agreed to a proposal submitted by 40 members to halt TV coverage in order to prevent “grandstanding” by some MPs.

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