The National Salvation Front (NSF) released a statement condemning the Suez Canal Development Project draft law, saying that it would lead to the loss of Egyptian lands to an institution with no restrictions or systems of accountability.
In the statement, the NSF brought forth five major concerns with the draft law. The first concern was that the law authorises the creation of the General Authority for the Development of the Suez Canal, an institution proposed by the president that would go behind the back of the government and would be outside the reach of parliamentary accountability.
The law also grants the proposed governing authority absolute power in the region, above that of the state, and opens up the possibility to extend this governing body’s jurisdiction to surrounding provinces as well, stating that “the president of the republic is the one who shall determine the dimensions and boundaries… of the authority’s jurisdiction”.
The NSF was also concerned that this proposed governing body would be taking cherished pieces of land from under the jurisdiction of the state and placing them in the hands of an institution with no connection to parliament, with the only proposed system of accountability being an annual report. According to Article 13 of the bill, this would include lands that are currently privately owned. What is even more worrying is that the president would have unilateral control over this body.
The bill also grants a ten-year tax exemption to investors in the region despite studies, the NSF said, showing that this is not a feasible way to promote investment, and the fact that such tax-breaks have not been used in the rest of the world for the last two decades.
The NSF’s biggest concern was that the bill makes no mention of laws regulating work in the region or protecting workers’ rights once the power has been transferred to this new governing body.
Constitutional expert Ibrahim Darwish shared the NSF’s concerns, saying that it goes against the constitution and poses a threat to the security and well-being of the country. A major concern, he said, was that the law would effectively create a “state within a state”, referring to the proposed governing authority.
However, Prime Minister Hesham Qandil denied the creation of a “state within a state” in a speech on Monday. He was referring to rumours that the law would give sovereignty over the region to investor states such as Qatar, and was not speaking of the creation of a proposed governing body.
No contracts signed with investors will affect the sovereignty of the Egyptian state in the region, Qandil affirmed. Furthermore, the government has consulted with the military to assure that national security will not be compromised by any of the proposed development projects.
Minister of Housing Tariq Wafiq confirmed that the proposed law gives no right to ownership to either Egyptians or foreign investors but would issue licences to investors on a usufruct basis for up to 25 years at a time.
Additional reporting by Lamia Nabil and Hend El-Behary