The State of Opposition in Egypt’s Parliament

With Egypt’s newly elected parliament convening once again after a two-week break—questions loom over the role of the opposition in parliament. The legislative body recently completed its very first task of reviewing all laws issued by the executive branch after the 2014 constitution went into force, and is once again reconvening. 

The first real debate in parliament took place over the controversial civil service law, which the majority of MPs voted down. 332 of 468 parliamentarians voted against the law, amid calls by government officials including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to reconsider their decision. Supporters of the law argue that it will help reform Egypt’s administrative apparatus, while MP Haitham al-Hariri, who spearheaded its opposition, says it will limit state employees’ income.

This debate highlights the state of opposition within the parliament. Largely described in the media as a rubber stamp parliament, even before its election, the question remains—can some of the elected political powers create a real form of opposition? And how does the voting down of the law impact the pro-Sisi bloc, In Support of Egypt which reportedly includes more than 380 of the 596 members of parliament.

Disorganized Opposition

Ramy Mohsen, Director of the National Center for Parliamentary Consultancy (NCPC), an independent NGO established in 2011, believes that opposition in this parliament may not be organized for multiple reasons.

“We need to bear in mind some issues. First of all, the majority of the MPs lack political and parliamentarian experience as this is their first time being elected or holding a public post,” Mohsen told Egypt Source. “This will make practicing real and organized opposition for them rather hard,” he explained.

“Even the In Support of Egypt bloc is fragile with no specific agenda,” Mohsen says. Many coalition members voted against the state-sponsored Civil Service Law, despite the fact that they belong to a pro-Sisi coalition, he explains. Mohsen doesn’t believe that forming a large bloc is a necessary prerequisite for solid opposition. “I think that opposing voices might come from either organized parties or independent MPs with an obvious political attachment to a certain ideology,” he explained.

A Leading Party

Mohsen predicts that the Free Egyptians Party, the leading party in this parliament with 65 seats, has the potential to serve as a well-organized opposition. They “have a well set up agenda and clear political positions.” The Free Egyptians Party refused to join the In Support of Egypt bloc, with Egyptian business tycoon and FEP founder, Naguib Sawiris, describing its members as “sheep being led by a Supreme Guide, just like the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Some experts, on the other hand, including Tarek Fahmy, a political science professor at Cairo University and Yousri El-Azbawi, a researcher for Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told local media outlets that a coalition  between the Wafd Party, Egypt’s oldest liberal party, and the Free Egyptians Party under the dome of the parliament was possible due to the existence of some common political ground between the parties. The Wafd clinched 45 seats in the new parliament and also refused to join the In Support of Egypt bloc.

Hosny Hafez, a Wafd Party MP and its General Secretary in Alexandria, hasn’t ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition with the Free Egyptians Party or at least, the possibility of “solid cooperation.”

“I think our ideology and political positions are close to each other, so I think the near future can witness collaboration in terms of supporting each other’s stances in certain legislations or parliamentary debates,” Hafez told EgyptSource.

“But generally I am not expecting to see organized waves of opposition based on fixed political programs in this parliament as many MPs lack experience and you can find some of them agree on certain positions and differ over others,” he said.

“We need more time to map this parliament,” said Hafez who also served as a member of the post-revolutionary parliament which was dissolved in 2012.

Political parties aside, in the nascent parliament’s first weeks, some outspoken independent MPs known for their support of the government have spoken out against the regime’s policies, or against its supporters. Mortada Mansour, the chairman of Cairo’s Zamalek football club and a controversial lawyer, and Tawfik Okahsa, a provocative media personality, have both used their roles as parliamentarians as a platform for criticism.

Mansour gave comments to a TV show criticizing the formation and the composition of In Support of Egypt bloc, while in statements to the media, Oksaha said, “The Brotherhood stole the January 25 revolution, and Sisi stole the June 30 revolution,” in reference to the two uprisings that led to a regime change in Egypt over the past five  years. In a separate statement he claimed there was no hope for Egypt. NCPC’s Mohsen says they may be acting this way because they are not affiliated with a specific group or party. He explains that the pair, both public figures and both who declined to join In Support of Egypt, are simply likely trying to garner attention.

Speaking to EgyptSource, Haitham El Hariry, an Alexandrian based MP and son of the late leftist figure Abu El Ezz El Hariry, said he feels he is “among the minority in this parliament.”

“I recognize that the revolutionary and the leftist current is a minority in this parliament,” Hariry said. “This doesn’t mean that we will not practice opposition. But it won’t be a verbal opposition, it will be an opposition that offers alternatives to things we don’t agree on concerning legislation or any government practices,” he explained.

However, Mohsen says at the end of the day opposition means “lobbying in order to gain votes for passing the laws or the policies and it remain to see which party or even independent MPs will be influential and convincing enough to pursue the majority of their positions.”

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

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