Week in Brief – January 14, 2018 – January 20, 2018

01/22/2018 . By TIMEP

Summary

  • The House of Representatives returned to recess, which will last until January 28. No legislation can be officially passed until the body reconvenes.
  • Representatives held an emergency session to approve President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi’s decreed cabinet reshuffle. The names of the ministers involved or their replacements were not made public ahead of the vote, though representatives appeared broadly supportive of the decision after ratifying it.
  • Support for Sisi’s reelection campaign, which was announced this week, is still growing in the legislature. Roughly 89 percent of the body have reportedly signed endorsements for Sisi. This creates a situation in which, at the maximum, only three other presidential candidates could use endorsements from representatives to put their names on the ballot in March.

Notable Developments

Emergency Session and Cabinet Reshuffle:

The House of Representatives called an emergency session to vote on a presidential decree that instituted a limited cabinet reshuffle. Leading up to the emergency session, there were no official reports of who would be included in the reshuffle. Nevertheless, the representatives approved the list of four new ministers and two new deputy ministers, including the ministers of public enterprises, local development, tourism, and culture, as well as the deputy ministers of housing and health. This reshuffle introduced two additional female ministers, bringing the total number of women in the cabinet to six—a fact that Representative Souad al-Masry said demonstrated the government’s confidence in Egyptian women. However, legislative reactions to the reshuffle were not uniformly positive, as several representatives expressed their discontent with the new minister of local development following his comments disparaging migrants from Upper Egypt.

Representatives Continue to Endorse Sisi:

The number of representatives officially endorsing President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi for a second term has grown to about 530 of 595 members, after previously unannounced members of the Salafist Nour Party signed endorsements for Sisi. Representatives Ghada Agemi, Amal Rizkallah, and Muhammad Wahaballah also announced that they are traveling to Italy to present Sisi’s accomplishments to Egyptians there. Several members of the 25-30 Bloc, the only organized group in the House of Representatives not to endorse Sisi so far, claimed that this rush toward total support of one candidate is indicative of the democratic imbalance in Egypt and stems from the state’s security mindset. The members also asserted that the state desired that the winning candidate receive at least 90 percent of the vote instead of a simple majority.

Other Developments

In Legislation:

When quorum was finally achieved this week, the House approved amendments to the Civil Status Law that make it mandatory for citizens to register their updated information at government offices that provide them with various social welfare services and benefits. Citizens will have one year from when the law is published in the Official Gazette to comply with new regulations, or they risk seeing services—such as bread and commodity subsidies—suspended, in addition to facing a fine of 1,000 to 5,000 Egyptian pounds (LE).

The House approved the fourth extension of the national state of emergency in the past year. It is set to go into force on January 13.

The House approved amendments to the Penal Code that increase the legal penalties for abducting or kidnapping children. Depending on the circumstances of the disappearance, perpetrators could face sentences of seven years to life in prison. The death penalty may also be invoked if the kidnapper commits a felony against a woman or a child who has been taken.

The legislature approved amendments to the Agriculture Law that increases the penalties for building on agricultural land to sentences of two to five years in prison and fines ranging from LE100,000 to LE5 million. The penalties for unauthorized cotton ginning were also increased to at least two years in prison and fines of LE10,000 to LE50,000.

The legislature approved the government’s amendments to the Prison Law, which sets the parameters for the conditional release of convicted prisoners who have served at least half their prison sentence.

During its weekly meeting, the cabinet agreed to a draft National Council for Persons with Disabilities Law and a draft Unified Building Law. Both will be sent to the House of Representatives for debate.

In Session:

The House of Representatives approved in principle a draft Bankruptcy Law and a draft General Body for Manufacturing Development Law. Each of these drafts require a final vote in front of a general session of parliament that has achieved quorum for them to become law.

The Suggestions and Complaints Committee sent Representative Bassem Felaifil’s draft National Commission for Health Care and Hospitals Law to the Health Affairs Committee for further discussion.

Abdel ‘Al postponed a general session discussion on the amendments to the Documentation and Registration Fees Law after several representatives objected to it.

A delegation of representatives visited Pope Tawadros II at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral to wish him and the Coptic Orthodox Church a merry Christmas. The delegation included Abdel ‘Al, al-Sayyid al-Ashraf, Saad al-Gamal, Alaa Abed, Abdel Hadi al-Qasbi, Margaret Azer, Marion Azer, and Mona Mina.

Abdel ‘Al and Social Solidarity Committee Chairman Abdel Hadi al-Qasbi met with a delegation from the Bahraini parliament, during which committee members said that the security of Bahrain is a red line for Egypt.

The Health Affairs Committee visited two hospitals in Qalyubia to follow up on statements by representatives.

Representative Muhammad al-Orabi said that a delegation from the legislature met with Robert Karem, U.S. deputy secretary of defense, to have him pass on to the Pentagon their total rejection of the memo in the U.S. Congress on Coptic rights. Additionally, the Foreign Relations Committee reportedly finished its response to the memo.

In News and Statements:

Abdel ‘Al responded to Representative Anisa Hassouna’s request to have the body publish more information on its actions and achievements by saying that the House of Representatives is not beholden to external forces. However, Abdel ‘Al did announce that Representative Salah Hasiballah would serve as the official spokesman for the House. Abdel ‘Al reportedly made this decision to protect the body from the attacks against it in the media. He also cautioned representatives against passing information about the legislature to journalists. After his appointment, Hasiballah announced that the body would sue Hazem Abdel Azim over his defamation of representatives and parliament.

Nation’s Future Party member Rashdi Wafqi won the seat of late representative Herqel Wafqi, his relative, in a fairly close race in Gerga.

Abdel ‘Al threatened to punish representatives who use their social media accounts to criticize the government and its dealings.

Looking Ahead

  • The number of representatives supporting Sisi’s unannounced candidacy for the reelection has likely reached its ceiling, after the Wafd and Tagammu parties announced their endorsement of Sisi. The only other unannounced groups are the Nour Party, the 25-30 Bloc, and a few unaffiliated representatives. Endorsements from representatives are not an absolute necessity for candidacy, though.
  • The tendency of the House of Representatives to denigrate foreign organizations, particularly in media and civil society (including recent vitriol against bodies such as the New York Times, Human Rights Watch, and the Economist, as well as preemptive statements against foreign monitors), as undermining Egypt suggests further advocacy against the participation of foreign organizations in monitoring the presidential elections. However, outside of introducing and passing new legislation on the matter, the House of Representatives has no official power to impact such decisions, which are specifically under the purview of the National Elections Commission.