Egypt’s parliament – the House of Representatives – voted Wednesday in favour of amending four articles of the law regulating the state of emergency (law 162/1958) to give the president greater powers to contain critical health situation such as the outbreak of the coronavirus.
To avoid crowdedness and in line with the anti-coronavirus measures, parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal decided that all deputies should not vote at the same time.
“A group of MPs representing one governorate only will be allowed to enter the meeting hall to vote and then leave,” said Abdel-Aal, adding that “deputies from Upper Egypt’s governorates will vote first.”
The vote included other laws which were approved in principle on Tuesday, all aiming to contain the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Speaker Abdel-Aal said that as many as 406 MPs approved the amendments.
“This represents more than two thirds of MPs as required by the constitution,” said Abdel-Aal.
A report prepared by parliament’s defence and national security committee said the first article of the emergency law (162/1958) states that the state of emergency should be declared whenever the country’s national security and interests face danger.
“When the novel COVID-19 virus swept the world early this year, it pushed different countries to stand up to this real challenge and to move to overcome the pandemic and mitigate its negative impact on the lives of citizens,” the report said.
“Egypt was at the forefront of countries which moved very early to take urgent health and economic measures necessary to stem the spread of the coronavirus,” said the report, adding that “Article 154 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution allows the president of the republic or officials deputised by him to take urgent measures to address dangers in exceptional circumstances.”
“As a result, the law should be amended to help the president face the current new challenges.”
The report said Article 4 (paragraph one) will be amended to give the military prosecution the power to investigate crimes reported by the Armed Forces, but it is the general prosecution that will give the final say on these crimes.
“Article 7 (paragraph 4) will also be amended to change the make-up of the courts in this respect to include military judges as real conditions showed that the Armed Forces should intervene in this respect to protect the homeland and citizens,” said the report.
The report also indicated that new items – beginning from 7 to 24 – will be added to the text of Article 3 of the emergency law to give the president 17 new powers mainly focusing on addressing extraordinary health, social and economic conditions.
The 17 new powers include the right to close schools and universities, shut down certain ministries, authorities and companies entirely or partially, postpone the payment of water, electricity and natural gas bills entirely or partially, and compel Egyptian expatriates returning home to undergo necessary health and quarantine measures.
The powers also give the president the authority to allocate cash and in-kind assistance to individuals and families, offer financial support for medical research, provide financial and in-kind support to damaged economic sectors, postpone the payment of certain taxes, and turn schools and youth centres into field hospitals.
The amended law grants the president the right to ban all kinds of private and public assemblies, processions and festivals. The powers also allow the president to impose restrictions on exports and the handling of certain goods, commodities, and services and to regulate the methods of collecting financial and in-kind donations necessary to contain certain critical health conditions.
Besides, the new presidential powers also comprise imposing control on research, scientific and laboratorial works related in particular to biological material, and toughening measures regarding the possession, use, handling and disposal of such material.
Parliament also finally approved on Wednesday amendments to seven laws, the first of which aim to change the current 2019/20 budget to earmark EGP 10 billion to help the state fight the coronavirus.
Also approved were amendments to laws on real estate tax exemptions, income tax exemptions, urgent financial measures to cope with COVID-19’s repercussions, raising pensions by 80 percent, and offering financial incentives to small and medium-scale enterprises.