File Photo: Egypt's parliament during their meeting. Al-Ahram
Egypt's House of Representatives approved on Sunday two controversial amendments to Law 48/1979 regulating the performance of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC).
Parliament Speaker Hanafi Gibali said the amendments will be up for a final vote in a later session.
The amendments will grant the SCC greater powers to revise international arbitration rulings if proven harmful to the Egyptian economy and state and whether they violate the Egyptian constitution.
A report prepared by the House's Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee said the amendments are in line with the 2014 constitution and come in light of the fact that a number of disputes are up for settlement before international arbitration courts.
The report argued that "although Article 192 of the constitution states that the SCC's jurisdiction is limited to local laws and decrees, the second paragraph of the article states that the law regulating the performance of the SCC could be amended to grant it greater powers," said the report.
According to the report, two articles will be added to the SCC law. "The first is Article 27, which states that the SCC's jurisdiction will be extended to include rulings issued by international institutions and organisations, foreign court verdicts, and international arbitration rulings which the state is required to implement," said the report.
The second, said the report, is Article 33 which states that the prime minister will be empowered to refer the rulings specified by Article 27 to the SCC to revise their constitutional terms and see whether they can be ignored because of their breach of the constitution and lack of legislative legitimacy.
"The amendments are necessary and represent a progressive legislative step aimed at safeguarding Egypt's national security against foreign institutions and organisations and international arbitration courts which issue rulings that lack legislative legitimacy," said the report.
Ibrahim El-Heneidi, the chair of the House's Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told MPs that the amendments are meant to protect Egypt's economy. "The two new articles will give the SCC authority to revise these rulings, investigate their legitimacy, and see whether they go in line with the constitution," said El-Heneidi.
Besides, El-Heneidi said, the SCC should extend its jurisdiction to cover international rulings as long as they will be implemented in Egypt. "But I also want to stress that the SCC verdicts on investment cases should not negatively affect Egypt's economic interests," he added.
Ayman Abul-Ela, deputy chairman of the House's Human Rights Committee, said "the two amendments to the SCC law do not mean that Egypt aims to ignore international rulings or agreements it has ratified. "Egypt is keen on implementing all international agreements and rulings, but at the same time it is also keen to put its own constitution above all international rulings and foreign agreements," said Abul-Ela, noting that "Switzerland refused to implement several international rulings which negatively affected its national interests, deciding that its own constitution and courts have the upper hand."
MP Amira Abu Shoka rejected the law, insisting that it could negatively affect Egypt's image in international business and economic circles. "Egypt has been trying its best to attract foreign investments, but this law could stem the flow of these investments," said Abu Shoka, expressing fears that "Egypt's assets in foreign countries could be expropriated if the government refused to implement international rulings."
MP Hesham Hilal, the parliamentary spokesperson of Modern Egypt Party, said it was important that the minister of investment and experts on international arbitration rulings come to parliament to give their opinion on the two amendments to SCC law and say whether they might harm Egypt's economic and investment interests.
Mohamed Abu Himila, the parliamentary spokesperson of the People's Republican Party, defended the amendments, arguing that they come to safeguard Egypt's national security. "The government wants to use the new amendments to ask the SCC to give a final say on international rulings which may affect the country's economic interests and rule whether they go in line with Egypt's constitution," said Abu Himila.
Fakhri Labib, chairman of the House's Budget Committee, said he is positive the two amendments to the SCC law will never affect Egypt's image in international circles. "When the SCC meets to revise a certain international ruling, it will be neutral and make sure that its ruling does not contravene the constitution," said Labib.