Egypt's 25-30 bloc of MPs says won't apologise for anti-VAT press conference

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 29 Aug 2016

The leftist 25-30 group said they will never apologise or backtrack on their rejection of the new value-added tax law, even after they were referred to the ethics committee to face disciplinary action

From L to R: Egypt's 25-30 Bloc members Haitham El-Hariri, Khaled Youssef and Nadia Henry

The major Egyptian parliamentary leftist bloc known as the 25-30 group stated on Monday that they would not apologise for a press conference they held on Sunday evening to voice their opposition of the new valued-added tax (VAT) law.

According to the block’s statement, "MPs affiliated with the group had the right to voice their rejection of the VAT law in a press conference after parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al refused to give them the floor during yesterday's plenary session, which was devoted to discussing the law."

"We held a press conference to inform the public of our position [on the VAT law], and this can never be considered a legal offence or a violation of parliament's internal bylaws," said the statement.

Speaker Abdel-Al referred the MPs to disciplinary action for holding the press conference, which he says was a “violation of parliament's internal bylaws.”

The bloc says that their rejection of the VAT law was motivated by their defence of the interests of poor and low-income citizens, who form the majority of Egyptians.

“We reject that these classes have to foot the bill of what they call ‘economic reform,’ especially given the fact that many other options are available where the wealthy classes would bear the [tax] burden.” 

On Sunday night, the 25-30 group, led by Alexandria MP Haitham El-Hariri, held a press conference in parliament's pharaonic hall to voice their rejection of the VAT law.

They said they were not given the floor by parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al to voice their rejection of the law, not to mention that the vote in principle on this draft law was not conducted in a transparent way.

"We expected that there would be an electronic vote so that the people know who approved this law and who rejected it, but we were surprised that speaker Abdel-Al took the vote by only asking MPs to raise their hands," said El-Hariri, adding that the 25-30 MPs decided to walk out of the session in protest of this perceived lack of transparency.

The conference drew immediate criticism from speaker Abdel-Al, who called it an "illegitimate way of exercising pressure on the podium."

"[The press conference held by 25-30] is completely illegitimate and comes in violation of parliament's internal bylaws," said Abdel-Al, arguing that "it is completely unacceptable that some MPs or groups resort to holding press conferences whenever the debate does not go their way."

"This kind of conferences only aims to terrorise the podium and exert pressure on the speaker to force it to take a certain decision," said Abdel-Al.

Abdel-Al also said that he does not recognise the 25-30 group.

"There is one legitimate parliamentary bloc in Egypt, that is the Support Egypt bloc, which was approved by parliament after it submitted the required documents," said Abdel-Al.

Abdel-Al insisted that "all parliamentary groups and blocs were given the floor to express their opinion on the VAT law," adding that an electronic vote will be held when it comes time for MPs to give their final say of the 74-article law.

"We are now debating the law in principle and this does not require an electronic vote," said Abdel-Al.

Many MPs joined forces with Abdel-Al, with independent MP Mohamed Abu Hamed describing the 25-30 MPs as "radical leftists who deceive poor citizens by raising sensational slogans on social justice."

"I and most MPs stress that the vote on the VAT was conducted in a very transparent way and that the spokesmen of most political parties were given the floor to voice their opinion on the law," said Abu Hamed.

In their statement on Monday, the 25-30 MPs said they reject what they describe as the hijacking of Egypt’s parliament, and "we will never backtrack or officially apologise for our positions."

The 25-30 group takes its name from the anti-Mubarak 25 January Revolution of 2011 and the anti-Muslim Brotherhood 30 June Revolution of 2013.

Most members of the 13-MP-strong block have a leftist backgrounds such as Haitham El-Hariri, the well-known lawyer Diaaeddin Dawoud and well-known film director Khaled Youssef.

They also include Coptic MP Nadia Henry, who dissented from the liberal Free Egyptians Party last week, and independent MPs Mostafa El-Guindy and Ahmed El-Sharkawy.

The VAT law was approved in principle by parliament on Sunday night, with a rate of 13 percent for the 2016/2017 fiscal year.

Parliament approved 39 articles on Sunday, with the remaining 35 articles to be discussed on Monday.

The VAT forms an integral part of the government's economic reform programme and a recent deal with the IMF.

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