Week in Brief – October 22-28, 2017

10/31/2017 . By TIMEP

Summary

  • The House of Representatives passed the new national state of emergency decreed by President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi in the wake of the deadly October 20 attack in the Western Desert. Egypt has been under the state of emergency since April 2017; though the Egyptian Constitution limits its term, the declaration of a “new” state of emergency was presented as a way around this.
  • The body is in recess until November 6 and will therefore not cast final votes on any legislation in the coming week.
  • The highest-level parliamentary delegation to visit the United States since 2008 arrived in the country over the weekend to begin a spate of meetings with American legislators and business leaders.

Notable Developments

High-level delegation visits U.S.:

A delegation from parliament left Egypt on Friday for a six-day visit to the United States. Speaker Ali Abdel ‘Al is leading the group, which comprises Ahmed Saad, secretary-general of parliament; Muhammad al-Suweidi, chairman of the majority Coalition in Support of Egypt; Tariq Radwan, newly elected chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; Hussein Aissa, chairman of the Budget Committee; Marion Azer, member of the Ethics Committee; Karim Darwish, member of the Foreign Relations Committee; Muhammad Salab, member of the Small and Medium Enterprises Committee; and Amr Sedki, member of the Economic Affairs Committee. The delegation will reportedly meet with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and leaders in Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, to discuss investment opportunities in Egypt, the recent terror attack in the Western Desert, the Palestinian issue, the corruption in the voting for the head of UNESCO (which Egypt lost), and the “lies” being propagated about the human rights situation in Egypt. However, the delegation thus far has only met with Egyptians at the consulate in New York City.

State of Emergency Passed:

The House of Representatives passed the new three-month national state of emergency after Ismail presented it to them and gave a speech on its necessity. Abdel ‘Al sent the decree to the general committee, which comprises the leadership of parliament, for quick approval, before the full general assembly voted to approve the decree by standing in agreement. Prior to the final vote, Abdel ‘Al insinuated that any representative who voted against the decree is not Egyptian. The legality of the whole process is suspect, as the Egyptian Constitution stipulates that “the declaration is for a specified period not exceeding three months, which can only be extended by another similar period upon the approval of two-thirds of House members.” The government claims that the three-day window between the end of the second state of emergency and this third decree fulfills that requirement. The constitution also mandates that the declaration be presented to parliament within seven days of its issuance. Sources are very unsure whether Ismail presented the decree to parliament within seven days of its issuance; he spoke in the House of Representatives 10 days after President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi declared the state of emergency.

Anti-LGBT Law Proposed:

Representative Riad Abdul Sitar presented a draft Anti-Homosexuality Law that would explicitly criminalize homosexual intercourse in public and private places, sentencing first-time offenders to one to three years in jail and repeat offenders to five years in prison. Supporters, activists, media members, or hosts of gay parties would also be sentenced to three years in prison under the law. Currently, homosexuality is not outlawed in Egypt, though the courts regularly use vague debauchery and prostitution laws to punish anyone charged with the act.

No One Resigned:

Parliament had been set last week to discuss the status of representatives Akmal Qartam and Muhammad Fuad, who each formally resigned from parliament during the second session, but they withdrew their resignations before the House of Representatives could formally vote on them. According to the bylaws, these resignations do not come into force unless they are approved by the parliament. Following the established trend from the first two sessions, both representatives maintained their interest in resigning while giving media interviews, before finally deciding to remain in parliament. Abdel ‘Al reportedly convinced Qartam to remain, whereas Fuad claimed that he remained because two-thirds of his constituents did not want him to resign. Fuad’s aborted resignation was one of the last vestiges of parliament’s anger over the Tiran and Sanafir islands agreement passed in the second session.

Other Developments

In Legislation:

The Cabinet approved a draft Traffic Law that will replace the existing law from 1973. The draft includes provisions for an electronic ticketing system for traffic violations, a penalty point system in which repeat violators would lose their licenses, a requirement that newly-licensed public transport vehicles be less than five years old, and that criminalizes building unauthorized speed bumps. The law was sent to the State Council for legal review, though sources say that the law could not be implemented in the next year because of electronic and infrastructure changes that need to be made.

Sisi ratified the amendments to the Administrative Control Authority Law that parliament passed on October 10.

In Session:

The Human Rights Committee continued its prison visits, going to prisons in Gamasa and Borg al-Arab. Committee members inspected the cafeteria, mosque, bakery, kitchens, and medical facilities of each prison, as well as other services. According to the delegation, the prisoners praised the quality of the services they receive. The committee announced that it would compile the results of its recent visits to prisons onto a CD that would be given to foreign embassies and nongovernmental organizations. The U.S. Congress was singled out as a future recipient of the CD because of the recently suspended aid.

The Human Rights Committee is reportedly coordinating with the Detained Youth Committee to hold meetings with youth released from prison via presidential pardon to bring them back into public life and keep them from joining groups that pit youth against the state.

The Workforce Committee called for discussions with government representatives and the director of the Central Authority for Organization and Administration on the state’s failure to follow through on pension payments mandated in the new Civil Service Law. Unhappiness with the implementation of the law became a talking point for other representatives this week as well.

The Health Affairs Committee summoned Minister of Health and Housing Ahmed Emad al-Din to discuss the pharmaceutical shortage and product pricing. The committee reportedly plans to present the minister with recommendations to fix the issues.

A delegation from the Economic Affairs Committee went on a two-day inspection tour of the Suez Canal Authority and Port Said ports.

In News and Statements:

Following the State Information Service’s dispute with BBC and Reuters over the number of police casualties sustained in the attack on police in Bahariya Oasis, representatives defended the official state casualty count. Abdel ‘Al called foreign outlets reporting high casualty rates “disgraceful” and Alaa Abed, a former police officer and chairman of the Human Rights Committee, called the reports lies and misinformation. Abdel ‘Al and delegations from the Human Rights Committee, Defense Committee, and Coalition in Support of Egypt all visited the injured officers in the hospital.

Margaret Azer of the Human Rights Committee suggested writing a joint report with the Social Solidarity Committee on the positive aspects of the NGO Law since it is being used as a weapon to attack parliament.

Several representatives criticized the medical and pharmaceutical situation in Egypt while addressing the minister of health.

Representative Rizk Daifallah complained that the government has not implemented any of the recommendations made by parliament, saying that the government only replies to the suggestions and then ignores them.

Looking Ahead

  • With parliament in recess and several members of the body’s leadership traveling as part of the delegation to the U.S., do not expect many developments in Cairo in the coming week. Committees will continue to meet, but the agenda will be comparatively lighter.
  • Judging by the timing and the composition of the delegation to the U.S., it would appear that the delegation is very interested in drumming up business for Egypt under the newly ratified executive regulations for the Investment Law. The Budget, Small and Medium Enterprises, and Economic Affairs Committees are all represented, and Muhammad al-Suweidi is not only the chairman of the majority coalition, but also the chairman of the board of the Egyptian Manufacturers Union. Also, several of these representatives were not part of the delegation to the U.S. earlier this year, which focused on human rights, military cooperation, and the widely criticized NGO Law, suggesting they were specially chosen for the priorities of this visit.
  • The Anti-Homosexuality Law presented this week cannot be referred to committee for full discussion until parliament reconvenes on November 6. However, this is not the first time in recent weeks that a representative has discussed preparing similar legislation. It appears likely that the topic will continue to provoke media debate between representatives throughout the coming week.