Week in Brief – June 2, 2018 – June 9, 2018

06/12/2018 . By TIMEP

Summary

  • The House of Representatives approved the Cybercrime Law in its entirety after agreeing to it in principle on May 14. The law grants judicial authority to issue a court order to service providers to block a specific website or face future punishments including at least one year’s imprisonment and fines ranging from 500,000 to 1 million Egyptian pounds (LE); the bill also requires that service providers store user data for 180 days and distribute the information to the government on request or face a minimum of three months’ imprisonment and fines ranging from LE200,000 to10 million, depending on the legal infringement.
  • The House replaced a 2016 media regulation law with a comprehensive Media Bodies Law, split into three separate laws regulating state-owned media, independent media institutions and private websites, and media broadcasting companies. The law ostensibly prohibits pretrial detention for journalists (not charged with inciting violent crimes against the state), classifies anyone with over 5,000 Twitter followers as a member of the media subject to charges of “false news,”, and requires companies such as Facebook and Google to pay taxes on revenue gained from advertising Egyptian-made products on Egyptian servers.
  • The House approved the final draft of the state budget for the 2018–19 fiscal year, expected to be the largest in Egypt’s history, eclipsing LE1.1 trillion (roughly $61.6 billion). The final draft included additional allocations for the education and health sectors at the behest of their respective committees in the legislature, as well as an increase of LE300 million in the House’s budget allocation, now totaling LE1.4 billion, primarily to provide staff members in the legislature with a salary raise.

Notable Developments

The House Approves Cybercrime Law Nearly Unanimously:

The House approved the Cybercrime Law in its entirety after previously agreeing to it in principle on May 14. The body considered amending Articles 2 and 24 of the legislation, but ultimately decided to keep the two articles intact. Article 2 requires service providers to store user data, similar to the Public Transformation Using Information Technology Law, for a period of 180 days. The article also requires providers to share this information with the government on request or face at least three months’ imprisonment and fines ranging from LE200,000 to 10 million, while Article 24 outlines the punishments, including fines ranging from LE10,000 to 300,000 and imprisonment for at least one year, for falsifying information using the internet. The law also allows the judicial system to institute court orders to service providers to block a website or face fines ranging from LE500,000 to 1 million and at least one year’s imprisonment. Speaker of the House Ali Abdel ‘Al conducted a standing vote for the bill, which was approved nearly unanimously.

House Approves Comprehensive Media Bodies Law:

The House approved the three separate laws comprising the comprehensive Media Bodies Law; this follows the Media Committee splitting the government’s extensive draft law into three separate bills, including the National Media Commission Law, regulates media broadcasting companies; the National Press Commission Law, which regulates how members of state-owned media are allowed to function in their position; and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation Law, which regulates independent media and online platforms. These three laws include reforms for all three types of media institutions, including provisions outlawing pretrial detention for journalists unless they are charged with inciting violence, requiring media publications to publish their official budgets and sources of funding, outlawing the publication of false news, classifying individuals with over 5,000 Twitter followers as members of the media (and thus legally bound by the “false news” article), and requiring companies such as Facebook and Google to pay taxes for advertising Egyptian products on Egyptian servers. These three laws will replace the 2016 Law Organizing Press and Media Institutions once they are ratified by President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi, though this comprehensive law was intended[1] to be passed during the second half of the 2016 legislation.

Representatives Hail Sisi’s New Choice for Prime Minister:

As customary upon the beginning of a president’s term in office, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail submitted the cabinet’s collective resignation. Sisi appointed Mustafa Madbouli, who had recently resigned as minister of housing, to replace Ismail, a decision that was well received throughout the legislature. The Free Egyptians Party and Conference Party sent Madbouli separate messages congratulating him on his new position, while also thanking Ismail for his leadership in office. Representatives, notably Local Administration Committee Chairman Ahmed al-Sageeni, praised Sisi’s decision to appoint Madbouli based on his previous experience serving as acting prime minister while Ismail underwent medical treatment in Germany between November 2017 and January 2018, and hailed Madbouli’s accomplishments in creating new housing development projects throughout Egypt during his tenure as minister of housing.

Presidential Pardon Draws Representatives’ Praise:

In celebration of Eid al-Fitr, marking the conclusion of Ramadan, Sisi pardoned 712 citizens, many of whom were imprisoned under the Protest Law for gathering in anti-regime demonstrations. Sisi’s decision was praised throughout the legislature by representatives and political parties. Parliamentary Spokesman Salah Hassiballah praised the mass pardon as a humanitarian gesture in light of Eid al-Fitr. Meanwhile, the Protectors of the Nation Party and the Conference Party welcomed the decision as indicative of Sisi’s humane side, while also praising the pardon as a means of stabilizing the country and promoting national development.

Other Developments

In Legislation:

The House agreed in principle to the government’s amendments to the Income Tax Law, which raises the minimum tax threshold to LE8,000 from LE7,200; the Budget Committee had previously approved the amendments earlier in the week. The raised threshold is expected to generate an additional LE9 billion in tax revenue for the government.

The House approved amendments to the Mayors Law in their entirety, which allows local officials to run for office at age 30 instead of 35. The law also dictates where the Ministry of the Interior is allowed to interject in the elections of mayors based on local traditions.

The House approved the Development Authority of Southern Egypt Law after previously agreeing to it in principle on May 14. The law establishes a supreme commission to oversee development projects in Upper Egypt and promote economic activity in the region.

The Defense Committee approved a draft Security Officials Pensions Law, which would increase the pension rate for police officers and military personnel by 15 percent or LE125, whichever figure is larger; the increase will take effect beginning July 1.

The power Committee approved a draft State Employees’ Pension Law that grants a raise to various state officials not associated with the security sector by 15 percent of their current pension, while also raising the minimum monthly pension value to LE750.

Representative Adel Badawi of the Housing Committee stated that the committee completed its report of the Reconciling Building Violations Law and intends to present its findings to the general body of parliament in the immediate future. The law permits the construction of settlements in buildings licensed for different purposes unless the height of the building surpasses maximum regulations established by the Civil Aviation Authority or does not have a minimum number of parking spots based on the number of inhabitants, or is located on agricultural property.

Representative Bassam Felayfil of the Suggestions and Complaints Committee submitted a bill that prevents citizens from establishing a social media account until the age of 18 and sets a fine of LE50,000–100,000 and one year’s imprisonment for creating a fake social media account.

In Session:

The Agriculture Committee recommended the formation of a subcommittee to investigate the cultivation process for a new strand of rice in various governorates. This comes in light of former prime minister Sherif Ismail’s announcement that Egypt would begin importing rice in part because of the water shortage nationwide because of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The Constitutional Affairs Committee recommended lifting Representative Khaled Basher’s immunity and removing him from office after consulting with the Bank of Egypt on Basher’s LE32 million debt. Committee Chairman Bahaa Abu Shoqa asserted that Basher’s conduct is unbecoming for a representative, while Basher stated that he has maintained this debt and ongoing legal battle since before his election to parliament, thus it does not represent a conduct issue because of its timeliness.

The Foreign Affairs Committee held a meeting with Miriam Mustafa’s family to follow-up on her attack and subsequent death in the United Kingdom. The committee issued a statement affirming its commitment to investigate this matter in coordination with the U.K. Parliament and the United Nations Human Rights Council to uncover the truth behind her attack and the various malpractices that the committee said ensued during her medical treatment.

Muhammad Saad Temaraz submitted a proposal to the government requesting that the government supply natural gas to Kafr al-Dawar in Beheira.

Dawoud Soleiman of the Energy Committee stated that the House referred the proposal to change the New Valley governorate into a border governorate to the cabinet for review. This follows the Suggestions and Complaints Committee’s consideration of several proposals to alter the border of the New Valley governorate, but ultimately postponing a final decision pending additional investigations by a subcommittee.

Several representatives from the Local Administration Committee made a surprise visit to the Beautification Commission of Giza to assess hygiene and cleanliness developments in the area.

The Arab Affairs Committee called for international action to be taken by Arab countries and other states against Israel for what the committee determined to be illegal advancement in regard to the Golan Heights in Syria. Israel currently occupies the land, though it is technically Syrian territory. This condemnation comes in light of Israel considering further development projects in the region.

The Arab Affairs Committee held a separate meeting calling for political stability in Iraq through political cooperation between parties to avoid internal divisions within the government.

In News and Statements:

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tariq Radwan decried the recent U.N. Office of Human Rights report, which expressed concern over the number of political activists and journalists detained in Egypt. Radwan stated that each detained individual was subject to due process of law based on criminal violations, adding that the report is based on international institutions with special agendas to defame Egypt.

One year after Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, Arab Affairs Committee Chairman Saad al-Gamal asserted that Qatar has done little to sever its connections with terrorist organizations and continues to be a regional bully.

Yehia Kedwani of the Defense Committee described the news in a recent New York Times article detailing the partnership between Facebook and 60 phone or other device companies as an international scandal, calling on countries worldwide to form an international resolution obligating Facebook to maintain user privacy rights.

The Nation’s Future Party established 30 community outreach centers in Cairo governorate, and is working on establishing additional locations in various regions throughout the country.

The Dostour Party seeks to hold internal elections within the next three months, and party members are currently developing their campaign platforms and strategies; the party does not currently hold any seats in the legislature.

Mustafa Bakri asserted that the Coalition in Support of Egypt is the majority bloc in parliament and that any attempts to remove the bloc are a threat on the stability of the legislature as an institution.

Coalition in Support of Egypt Chairman Muhammad al-Suweidi decried the state-owned newspaper al-Ahram for publishing an article that he deemed critical of the recent party realignment developments in the legislature. Suweidi called on Abdel ‘Al to take legal action against the newspaper for the article, which Suweidi described as defamatory; the article has since been removed from al-Ahram’s website.

Looking Ahead

  • The House is expected to take a final vote on the Leasing and Financing Law during the upcoming plenary session. The bill creates additional regulations for small enterprise financing and provides additional jurisdiction to economic courts.

[1] For more, see TIMEP’s previous coverage of the 2016 law at the time of its passage: https://medium.com/tahrir-institute-for-middle-east-policy/egypts-hollow-media-law-a9293c74543a.