The 292-article internal bylaws regulating the Senate — Egypt’s consultative second chamber — were approved by the House of Representatives on 16 February. The bylaws, expected to be ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and published in the official gazette this week, will allow the newly-elected 300-member Senate to hold its first plenary meetings early next month.
Senate Deputy Speaker and Wafd Party head Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka told reporters on Monday he expects the Senate to hold its first plenary meeting on 7 March.
“Senators were asked to come on Sunday and Monday this week to say which of the Senate’s 14 committees they wish to join,” said Abu Shoka. “They are allowed to select two committees. Elections will then be held for the leading posts — a chairman, two deputies and one secretary-general — of each committee.”
The Senate’s General Committee and the Ethics Committee also have to be formed ahead of any plenary meetings. According to Abu Shoka, “all these steps will be taken within the coming two weeks so that the Senate can hold its first session on 7 March.”
Article 155 of the bylaws sets a quorum of 200 senators for meetings to be valid. Article 164 allows the Senate to hold closed meetings at the request of the president, the prime minister, the speaker or a minimum of 20 senators, to discuss issues related to sovereign interests or listen to statements and clarifications on decisions related to significant domestic and foreign policies.
Article 234 controversially requires parliamentarians, be they MPs or senators, to secure the speaker’s approval before travelling abroad, a provision that some argue contravenes the constitution.
MP Freddy Al-Bayadi says Article 62 of the constitution clearly states that citizens, including parliamentarians, can be banned from travelling abroad only after a final judicial ruling.
Ashraf Rashad, parliamentary spokesperson of the majority Mostaqbal Watan Party, argued it was fully within the rights of the Senate speaker to reject parliamentarians’ requests to travel to “certain countries”, a euphemism commonly applied to Turkey and Qatar.
“This is necessary to prevent senators and MPs from participating in conferences attacking Egypt,” said Rashad.
House Deputy Speaker Ahmed Saadeddin said the stipulation aimed to prevent parliamentarians from visiting countries hostile to Egypt and that in the past “deputies had travelled abroad to illegally obtain money from foreign organisations or give interviews to hostile television channels.”
Senators who travel abroad on the chamber’s request or for specific missions are not required to seek a prior approval.
MPs voted down a controversial article allowing payments to senators to be tax-exempt.
Parliament Speaker Hanafi Gibali had argued that the text of Article 284 exempting senators’ salaries from tax should be removed.
“All citizens, including MPs and senators, should be on an equal footing in terms of paying taxes and fees,” said Gibali. “MPs and senators need to send the message that they are committed to social equality and like ordinary citizens are ready to shoulder their tax burdens.”
Article 284 now states that senators will receive a basic monthly salary of LE5,000, that the Senate speaker receive a salary on par with the prime minister, and the speaker’s two deputies on par with cabinet ministers.
Mostaqbal Watan Spokesperson Rashad said he will propose an amendment to the House of Representatives’ bylaws cancelling tax exemptions for MPs. He also announced that MPs affiliated with Mostaqbal Watan will donate half their annual basic salary to a fund set up to compensate the families of soldiers killed on active duty.
Article 249 of the constitution states that the Senate review any constitutional amendment, national socio-economic development plans, international treaties and alliances, and draft laws referred by the president or the House of Representatives.
Ibrahim Al-Heneidi, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said that once sitting the Senate will be of great help to the House of Representatives.
“Not only will it widen the scope of political participation, it will also help the legislative process in terms of thoroughly vetting laws before they are sent to the House,” said Al-Heneidi.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 February, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly