Challenges Facing Egypt’s Upcoming Parliament

Days before Egypt witnesses its long-delayed parliamentary elections, questions loom about the challenges that may face the newly elected parliament. There are three main challenges—two of which are of immediate concern, while the third is a long-term issue. The parliament will be expected to review over 300 laws in the span of two weeks, has no internal bylaws regulating its actions, and a debate has emerged over the powers granted to the legislative body by the 2014 constitution.

Reviewing Laws

According to Article 156 of the 2014 Constitution, once elected, the parliament must discuss and approve all laws issued by both Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi within fifteen days. If the parliament does not approve them, the laws are retroactively revoked.

By some estimations, the parliament will have to review over 340 laws—both new decrees and amendments to existing laws—with 310 issued by Sisi and forty issued by Mansour. Nearly half of them relate to administrative laws or appointments, while the rest relate to the judicial procedures, the economy, foreign policy, security, political and social affairs, and to the criminal code.

 “I believe this won’t cause too much hassle as many candidates and lists who are running in the elections vowed that they will call for passing the laws to meet the deadline, then add any amendments or even draft new laws later,” said Ramy Mohsen, director of National Center for Parliamentary Consultancy (NCPC), an independent NGO established in 2011. Former intelligence officer and coordinator of the For the Love of Egypt electoral bloc Sameh Seif al-Yazal, himself has said the laws should simply be approved now, and debated later.         

No Internal Bylaws

“I believe that the main dilemma which will face the parliament once elected is that there are no internal bylaws regulating the flow of sessions and the parliamentarians’ right, duties, and prohibitions,” Mohsen said. In the past, the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs has issued these bylaws, which are then ratified by the presidency. According to Mohsen, this has not been the case this time. Without these bylaws, Mohsen explains, there is no criteria for how the entire structure of the parliament—the speaker, two secretaries, and the many sub-committees—will be elected by its members.

Under former president Hosni Mubarak, the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) would nominate a candidate, due to its position as the majority party. For two decades, however, the party chose the same speaker. Fathy Sorour, a law expert and a parliamentarian, held the post for five consecutive parliaments from 1990 until 2010. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) gained the majority in the 2012 people’s assembly, the party had nominated Mohamed Saad al-Katanai to hold the speaker’s post.

The speaker is the de facto head of parliament, and he regulates the hearings and supervises sessions, and the implementation of the bylaws. With many experts predicting that the coming parliament won’t be dominated by a specific political fraction, the speaker’s nomination is expected to be a headline story once the parliament is elected. 

Some candidates—including Sameh Saif al-Yazel—have suggested nominating either Egypt’s former interim president Mansour, who is currently the Head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), or Amr Moussa, Egypt’s long serving foreign minister under Mubarak. While neither of them are running in the elections, they could be among the twenty-eight appointed parliamentary members chosen by the president.

A Constitutional Dilemma

A long-term dilemma facing the upcoming parliament relates to the powers given to the legislative body by the 2014 constitution. In mid-September, while delivering a speech at the Suez Canal University, Sisi said, “The Constitution, with good intentions, gives vast powers to the parliament. Countries cannot be managed by good intentions alone.”

According to NCPC’s Mohsen, the constitution has handed over about 65 percent of the powers previously held by the president to the parliament. “The 2014 constitution gives the parliament unprecedented powers. For instance Article 146 stipulates that if the cabinet composed by the president does not win the confidence of the majority of the members of parliament within thirty days at the most, the president shall appoint a prime minister who is nominated by the party or the coalition that holds the majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, ” he said.

“Article 147 states that the president may call for a cabinet reshuffle after consulting with the Prime Minister,” he added. According to the article, however, he must also gain the approval of parliament, with an absolute majority of attendees, which must be no less than one third of its members. Mohsen said that Sisi also warned of this in a recent statement. During his October 6 national address, Sisi urged voters to choose their candidates carefully, adding specifically that once elected, the parliament will decide whether or not the current cabinet will remain in place.

Sisi’s statements have been followed by an ongoing debate over whether or not the constitution should be amended. A member of the constituent assembly, Hoda al-Salam, told Mada Masr that, while she is in favor of maintaining the current constitution, it may be amended to whittle down parliamentary powers, adding that the media has tried to “pave the way” for these changes. Among parliamentary candidates and political leaders, there is a range of opinions. While Seif al-Yazel sees a need for amending the constitution, he says changes shouldn’t take place in the next two years. Wafd Party Chairman al-Sayed al-Badaway, on the other hand, has said that Sisi’ statements confirm his party’s position on the need for changes, and that they will push for amendments to the constitution in parliament. Strong Egypt, which is among the parties boycotting the elections, has expressed its rejection of any amendments to the constitution, despite mobilizing against its ratification last year.

Mohsen adds, according to the current constitution, if the parliament and cabinet do not see eye to eye, they face either dissolution (in the case of the cabinet) or sacking after a public referendum (in the case of the parliament). “In both cases,” Mohsen says, “The people pay for that.”  

Omar Halawa is based in Cairo and is a senior political reporter for Ahram Online. 

Image: Photo: Ahmed Abd El-Fatah