Week in Brief – April 22, 2018 – April 28, 2018

05/01/2018 . By TIMEP

Summary

  • Thirty members of the House of Representatives from various political affiliations joined the Coalition in Support of Egypt, though some of these representatives asserted their intention to leave the bloc if it reorganizes into an official political party. Similarly, coalition leadership expressed their support for the bloc’s party transformation, adding that they will pursue amending parliament’s bylaws to legalize the bloc’s reorganization.
  • The coalition’s reorganization efforts prompted the Wafd Party and Free Egyptians Party to publicly reject any rumors of their intentions to consolidate into a new party. Both parties welcomed the inclusion of the coalition as an official political party, though each affirmed their current prominent statures within the House.
  • Free Egyptians Party Chairman Essam Khalil faces a legal investigation by the Administrative Control Authority and the House on charges of falsifying car product information to avoid paying increased taxes; members of Khalil’s party are leading the parliamentary inquiry into these charges.

Notable Developments

Coalition in Support of Egypt Undergoes Major Reshuffling:

The Coalition in Support of Egypt experienced a significant progression in terms of its membership and in its attempt to reclassify as an official political party. The coalition announced Sunday that 30 representatives in the House had joined the bloc, bringing its total membership to nearly 450. The representatives include 20 independent members of the House, three members of the Wafd Party, four members of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP), and three members of the Nation’s Future Party. Some of these representatives, including Muhammad Khalifa of the Wafd Party and Naaman Ahmed Fathi of the Free Egyptians Party, acknowledged their desire to leave the coalition if the organization transforms into a political party. However, these prospective affiliation changes would be prohibited under parliament’s bylaws, as Article 6 states that representatives cannot change party designation after being elected. Despite the bylaw stipulation, no legal challenge has been issued regarding the representatives’ new affiliation.

In related news, the coalition held an unscheduled meeting Sunday to discuss the bloc’s transformation into an official political party. Chairman Muhammad al-Suweidi and Deputy Chairman Amr Ghallab acknowledged in separate interviews that the bloc was conducting a legal study to assess the possibility of party transformation, specifically referring to Article 6 of the House’s bylaws; the bloc is considering amending this bylaw. While joining the coalition mid-session permitted under the current bylaws, the bloc’s possible transformation into a political party raises legal concerns under Article 6.

Other Political Parties React to the Coalition’s Consolidation Developments:

Following the Coalition in Support of Egypt’s announcements regarding its increased membership and consolidation meetings, representatives from other prominent political parties commented on their respective organizations’ organizational standing. Wafd Party Vice-President Hossam al-Khouli recognized the coalition’s legal ability to transform into an official political party, though he dismissed rumors that the Wafd would seek to consolidate as part of the bloc. However, Khouli acknowledged that some members of the Wafd Party have attended recent meetings of the coalition. The FEP responded in a more defensive manner compared to the Wafd, as Representative Hatem Bashat and FEP Political Bureau member Khaled Abdel Aziz revered their organization as the most prominent bloc within parliament. Abdel Aziz also dismissed rumors that the FEP would seek to consolidate as part of the Coalition in Support of Egypt.

Free Egyptians Party Chairman Embattled in Legal Controversy:

FEP Chairman Essam Khalil is under investigation by the Administrative Control Authority on charges of falsifying information related to car products and their prices to avoid taxes. Representative Ibrahim Abdel Wahab of the FEP requested an official briefing in parliament to follow up on Khalil’s charges. Khalil played a role in the expulsion of former party chairman Naguib Sawiris in 2017.

Shawkan’s Journalism Award Sparks Outrage in Parliament:

Imprisoned photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, commonly referred to as Shawkan, was awarded the Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize by UNESCO. Shawkan has been imprisoned for nearly five years since the Raba’a al-Adaweya Square massacre of 2013, and currently faces the death penalty. UNESCO’s decision sparked outrage in parliament, as Speaker Ali Abdel ‘Al demanded that the organization refrain from interfering in political affairs. Human Rights Committee Chairman Alaa Abed joined Abdel ‘Al in his criticism of the award, accusing Shawkan of being a terrorist and an unworthy recipient.

Representatives Blame Ministers for Failing to Properly Address Widespread Flooding:

Heavy rainfall in recent days prompted widespread flooding and sewage problems throughout major urban centers, leading to representatives blaming cabinet members for the water problems. Several representatives, notably al-Sayyid Hegazi of the Energy Committee, blamed the ministers of local development and housing and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail for failing to adequately carry out their obligations as ministers when responding to the flooding. Hegazi, among other representatives, submitted official requests to parliament to formally investigate the failure of various governorates to address the ongoing crisis.

Other Developments

In Legislation:

The House of Representatives approved amendments to the Agriculture Law, which delegate near-complete authority to the Ministry of Agriculture to decide on farming methods. Under the new amendments, the agriculture minister may decide which crops can be grown in a specific area and determine which locations can be cultivated for farmland.

The House approved amendments to the Antiquities Law. The legislation criminalizes the illegal transfer of items and knowledge regarding antiquities with a life imprisonment and fine ranging from 50,000 Egyptian pounds (LE) to LE250,000, while also fining individuals up to LE10,000 for harassing tourists in the vicinity of archaeological sites.

The House approved the Social Housing Law, which will establish a fund under the Ministry of Housing’s jurisdiction to assist low-income residents with housing alternatives and provide for the development of permanent housing.

The House approved amendments to the National Tunnels Authority Law, which requires analyses of current metro and railway projects to be conducted to assess the need for future updates to these projects.

The House approved amendments to the Public Roads Law, which will grant entrepreneurs a license to operate a food cart for a one-year period and maximum cost of LE20,000.

The Health Committee approved the Clinical Trials Law and submitted its final report of the bill to the general floor of parliament for review; the body is expected to debate the bill May 6. The law aims to organize clinical research procedures and establish a legal framework for these procedures with an emphasis on human rights.

In Session:

A delegation from the Health Committee, led by Chairman Muhammad al-Omari, visited the Gharib Hospital in the Red Sea governorate to assess the conditions of the hospital. Patients at the hospital revealed to the delegation that the hospital lacks adequate medical supplies, prompting the committee to request that the hospital reassess its current supplies to fulfill the needs of its patients.

The Budget Committee recommended that the government reevaluate some television channels within the National Media Authority and their continued operating status to avoid wasted financial assets.

Abdel Hamid Demerdash of the Agriculture Committee submitted a request to Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, Agriculture Minister Abdel Moneim al-Banna, and Supply and Trade Minister Muhammad Ali al-Sheikh to demand that Ethiopia compensate Egypt for rice crops lost because of a lack of floodwater due to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Demerdash’s comments follow the government’s decision to reduce the amount of available land for rice cultivation.

Tadrus Qaldus of the Communications Committee presented a question to Ismail about Careem’s recent hacking of user data. Qaldus inquired about the role of the government in ensuring that users’ personal information is protected.

Abdel ‘Al criticized Representative Hossam Rifaai for appearing to general session wearing “informal clothing.” Abdel ‘Al accused Rifaai of wearing clothes more suitable for a football match as opposed to a legislative session.

Shireen Farag of the Health Committee called upon the Ministry of the Environment to assess landfills nationwide and consider their closure if they pose significant health risks to the surrounding population.

In News and Statements:

Parliamentary spokesman Salah Hassiballah congratulated President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, the armed forces, and the Egyptian people on the 36th anniversary of Sinai Liberation Day, when Egypt reclaimed Sinai as official territory from Israel. Hassiballah praised the armed forces for their continued strength in warding off both domestic and international threats.

Representative Mustafa al-Gindi of the African Affairs Committee traveled to Uganda and met with members of the Ugandan parliament to promote his campaign for chairman of the Pan-African Parliament.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean began a session in Egypt’s parliament. The group is expected to discuss a variety of topics including terrorism, economic developments, human rights concerns, political affairs, and environmental issues.

Suzy Rafla of the Foreign Affairs Committee led a meeting with other representatives along with members of the Estonian parliament. The delegation discussed increasing parliamentary relations to promote political and economic cooperation.

Looking Ahead

  • Abdel Razek Zent of the Manpower Committee called upon the cabinet to submit a pension bill that would go into effect July 1 along with the state budget for the fiscal year. Zent recommended an increase to the annual pension of at least 20 percent to compensate for the difficulties many Egyptians face.
  • The Communications Committee will hold a series of meetings next week to discuss the rise in violent games, such as the Blue Whale game, which has resulted in several deaths or serious injuries nationwide.