A file photo of Senate Council in Cairo (Photo: SIS)
Following a three-hour debate, Egypt's 300-member Senate finally approved on Sunday the internal bylaws that will regulate its proceedings for the next five years.
Speaker of the Senate Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek told members at the end of the debate that the final draft of the 292-article bylaws will be sent to the president of the republic.
"The bylaws were finally discussed and approved by members article by article and will be sent to the president of the republic," he said.
Secretary-general of the Senate Mahmoud Ismail also told reporters that the Senate's internal bylaws will be sent to the House of Representatives to be passed and enacted into law. He also indicated that the bylaws were revised by the State Council before they were put up for discussion today.
The discussion saw members approving the articles of the bylaws as drafted by an ad hoc committee comprising 30 members. There were, however, some minor amendments.
MPs approved for the Senate to include provisions for 14 committees that will cover all fields and activities in Egypt. Members also decided that the name of the agriculture committee is to be changed to the Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Resources Committee.
The Senate members also rejected a proposal submitted by deputy Mahmoud Hussein asking that the words "Islamic sharia" be removed from Article 46. The article states that the Senate's Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee shall be entrusted with studying amendments to laws and making sure they do not violate principles of Islamic sharia and provisions of the constitution. Deputy speaker and chairman of the Wafd Party Bahaaeddin Abu Shoqa said the words "Islamic sharia" are necessary as the constitution stipulates in Article 2 that Islamic sharia is the main source of legislation in Egypt.
The Senate members also approved that the text of Article 234 be changed to state that senators can travel abroad only after getting a prior approval from the speaker and upon submitting a written request showing where and why he/she wants to travel outside Egypt. The speaker of the senate shall have the right to reject any travel requests.
However, deputy speaker Abu Shoqa said the text contravenes articles 54 and 62 of the constitution, which give citizens the right to freely travel abroad. In response, the senate speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razeq, a former chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court, insisted that Article 234 goes in line with the constitution upon the grounds that "when a senator decides to travel abroad, he/she does this not just because he/she is an ordinary citizen, but also because he/she is a senator and so he/she has to take a prior approval from the chamber."
"This is the case with judges and with other professions," Abdel-Razeq added.
The controversial Article 234 also states that while he/she is abroad, a senator shall be allowed to hold meetings or sign contacts with foreign agencies only upon prior approval from the senate.
Article 1 states that the Senate is one of Egypt's two parliamentary chambers, exercising its role in line with the constitution and in cooperation with the House of Representatives. The final draft of internal bylaws also states that the Senate members will just be allowed to give their views on a number of issues, such as the amendment of the articles of the constitution; the annual socio-economic development plans; the alliance, reconciliation and sovereignty treaties with foreign countries; and draft laws referred by the president and the House of Representatives.
Senate members will also be required to uphold the principles of political competitiveness, mutual acceptance, women’s and youth empowerment, and supporting the principles of citizenship, social justice, freedom of expression, and fighting all forms of organised crime, particularly terrorism, as well as racial discrimination, tribal conflicts and sectarian strife.
Article 14 states that the Senate speaker or any of his deputies cannot stay in office for more than two terms, each spanning five years.
The Senate's internal bylaws (articles 107-119) state that members will have some supervisory powers such as directing questions that must be answered by cabinet ministers, opening a public debate on a certain government policy, and submitting and directing proposals to the prime minister.
Meanwhile, articles 225-229 state that Senate members have full parliamentary immunity and that legal measures against any of them can be taken only upon the Senate's approval.
Article 225, however, states that a Senate member can be arrested if they are caught red-handed.