File photo of the House of Representatives (photo: Khaled Mashaal)
On 9 February Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal announced that time is running out for MPs.
“We have just four months, and new elections will be held in November. Yet although we face a tight schedule to wrap up business, the government has not yet referred any laws on the coming parliamentary elections to the House.”
There will be three elections in the coming stage, said Abdel-Aal.
“We will have elections for the House of Representatives, the Senate and local councils and we need to discuss laws regulating the polls very soon.
“Though we have no mandate to set election dates it is the responsibility of the House to decide the laws regulating the elections and necessary legislation.”
Abdel-Aal said government-drafted legislation regulating the performance and election of local councils is still on the agenda. “But this law, like other political laws, should be the subject of a national dialogue before it is put up for discussion and a vote by MPs.”
Adel Nasser, parliamentary spokesman of the majority Future of Homeland Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that a consensus is emerging among political parties that to hold three elections in one year is too ambitious.
“Political forces need to prepare to contest the House and Senate elections first,” said Nasser. “The government will have to hurry to refer laws on the two chambers, on the exercise of political rights and the redrawing of electoral districts to parliament.”
Nasser said political parties began to discuss the relevant political laws two months ago though only the Future of Homeland Party has engaged in extensive consultations.
“After four sessions we agreed that a committee including legal experts be formed to discuss the electoral system most favourable to political forces. The majority say they want a list system to be adopted in electing the two chambers of parliament but government circles favour a mixed list-individual system.”
Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashem Rabie notes that “though the current parliament officially ends on 9 January 2021 its actual business agenda will finish in July.
“With just four months to go, the government really needs to refer political laws to parliament next month. Wide-ranging consultations will be needed to reach a consensus and ensure that all political parties contest the poll.”
Essam Shiha, a leading Wafd Party figure, told the Weekly that “the 2015-2020 parliament was born of turmoil and chaos.
“Now that Egypt is politically and economically stable, it needs a more active and forceful parliament. We want to promote a more vibrant political life and the first step is to elect a strong parliament, and by strong I mean one that includes the greatest possible number of opposition MPs.”
Shiha fears the majority of MPs affiliated with the Future of Homeland Party would like to see a mixed list-individual election system.
“Many of these MPs plan to run for re-election in November and are likely to favour retaining the same mixed electoral system that saw them win seats in the first place. But if the coming parliament simply replicates the current one, Egypt’s political development will hardly progress.”
Shiha, like Rabie, says that an open list system in the coming election will change Egypt’s political map.
Wafd Party Chairman Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka said at a recent conference that he would like to see 75 per cent of seats allocated via the list system and 25 per cent by the individual system.
Margret Azer, deputy chair of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, said each system has pros and cons. “What is most important is that the chosen system does not contravene the constitution. Most MPs would opt for a 50-50 list-individual system because the Supreme Constitutional Court is unlikely to have any objections to it.”
Young politicians of the Coordinating Committee of Political Parties met with political forces this week to discuss the elections.
“Parliament needs to begin discussing amendments to political and election laws as soon as possible,” Amin Badr, a member of the coordinating committee, told journalists.
“There is a semi-consensus that local elections be postponed to next year. Three polls in one year will be too costly in security and financial terms,” said Badr.
Parliament’s spokesperson and Al-Horreya (Freedom) Party Chairman Salah Hassaballah told the Weekly that parties need to “prepare for the elections from now and laws regulating the poll need to be subject to wide-ranging consultation”.
Parliamentary elections are not the only challenge Egypt will face this year. On the security front, Islamic State-affiliated Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis still poses a threat in Sinai. Though the terrorist group has lost much of its power it killed a number of policemen in Sinai on 9 February.
“The latest suicide attack came after months-long hiatus in terrorist activity in Sinai,” said Kamal Amer, head of parliament’s Defence and National Security Committee.
While Amer sees the attack as a desperate ploy by Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis to prove it is still relevant, a greater security problem looms across the western border.
“Though the border with Libya has been strengthened and leading extremists like Hisham Al-Ashmawi are in detention it remains a worrying trouble spot,” says Amer.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s economy has made great strides as reforms required by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to secure a $12 billion loan have been successfully implemented. In reports issued by the World Bank, the IMF and international credit rating agencies, Egypt tops lists of Middle Eastern and African countries in terms of economic growth. In the last 12 months the Egyptian pound has recovered 13 per cent of its value against the US dollar, selling now at 15.6 per dollar compared to 18.6 in 2016.
Amr Ghallab, a former head of parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, believes the most pressing worry is that tourism revenues could slump in the face of the coronavirus crisis.
“Egypt generated $13 billion in tourism revenues in 2019 and we were hoping to exceed $15 billion this year. Now, though, the appearance of the coronavirus will stem the flow of Chinese tourists whose numbers exceeded one million in 2019.”
According to Ghallab, “skyrocketing tourism revenues were a major factor in helping the economic reform programme and in strengthening the pound against the dollar.”
Ghallab also believes the government must do more to help the most disadvantaged members of society weather the impact of the reform programme.
“This is a major source of concern for the majority of MPs because in the absence of effective mitigation measures social unrest and tensions will grow,” said Ghallab.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly underheadline: The future beckons