Following its two-month summer recess, the House of Representatives got down to business this week, reports Gamal Essam El-Din.
On Saturday, the House held a short procedural sitting in which Speaker Hanafi Al-Gibali briefed MPs on what to expect in the coming legislative season.
Al-Gibali said the House was keen to join other constitutional institutions in drafting national development strategies to meet public demands. “We are building a new state and are obliged to reflect the pulse of the people and protect our country from any storms that might try to destroy its structure,” he said.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Alaa Fouad vowed the government would fully cooperate with the House of Representatives.
Al-Gibali said the previous legislative season had shown that MPs were up to their responsibilities. MPs were keen to exercise their supervisory powers in a rational way and observe a balance between the House’s legislative and supervisory roles, said Gibali. He added that MPs were also keen to act as the conscience of the people and closely monitor the government’s performance.
MPs, be they majority or opposition, should join hands to forge the country’s national strategies and turn Egypt into a beacon for development and stability in the region, said Al-Gibali.
The House welcomed Egypt’s new strategy on human rights, declared last month, and aimed to strike a balance between freedoms and rights, insisted Al-Gibali. “The strategy stresses that there is a strong link between democracy and human rights, and that everyone should work to achieve these two goals,” he said.
In his capacity as head of the House’s general committee, Al-Gibali approved the reformulation of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). The 27-member NCHR includes a mix of independent human rights activists, journalists, lawyers and diplomats.
He revealed that among the legislation the government had referred to the House for discussion in the upcoming season were amendments to laws regulating criminal procedures, the levying of a financial resource development fee, and the possession of weapons and ammunition.
According to Al-Gibali, laws drafted by MPs Hala Abul-Saad and Emad Saad Hammouda on tax evasion and the organisation of new housing communities would also be discussed in committee.
The new Unified Finance Law, approved by the Senate in its first legislative session, would top the House’s legislative agenda in the new season.
On Sunday, the House held a procedural session to determine the composition of 25 committees, including the committees’ chair, two deputies, and secretary-general.
The pro-government Mostaqbal Watan (Future of the Homeland) Party dominated the committee elections with 17 MPs elected to head committees. Five public figures appointed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi were also elected chairmen of parliamentary committees, as was one independent MP, businessman Sherif Al-Gibali, one member of the Freedom Party, Moetaz Mohamed Mahmoud, and one member of the Guardians of the Nation Party, Ahmed Al-Awadi.
On Monday, the House passed a legislative amendment toughening penalties for those found guilty of bullying disabled persons. Al-Gibali said the legislative amendment will be put up for a final vote after revision by the State Council.
Mohamed Al-Sallab, the MP and businessman who drafted the amendment, said bullying covers a variety of aggressive practices and behaviour and can take different forms, including verbal and physical assault.
If passed, Al-Sallab’s amended article will be added to the 2018 law on the rights of the physically and mentally challenged. It increases the penalties for bullying a physically or mentally challenged person to one year in prison and a fine of between LE50,000 and LE100,000. If the aggressors are relatives or servants of the victim, the sentence can increase to two years in prison, and the fine to LE200,000.
“Sixty per cent of school students who suffer from physical or mental disabilities face bullying in schools and other places,” says Ayman Abul-Ela, deputy chairman of parliament’s Human Rights Committee.
Abul-Ela said the new amendments are in line with articles 53, 80, 81, and 309 of the penal code which guarantee the health, economic, social, cultural, entertainment, sporting, and educational rights of persons with disabilities.
On Monday, the House approved the formation of its Ethics Committee. The 14-member committee, led by head of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee Ibrahim Al-Heneidi, includes seven MPs affiliated with Mostaqbal Watan, one independent MP, and six MPs affiliated with other political parties.
The Ethics Committee is tasked with policing MPs’ conduct.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly