President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi called on the parliament Sunday to vote to renew confidence in the cabinet he appointed, the current cabinet headed by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.
This came as Ismail made a statement in which he outlined the government’s vision for a development programme up to 2018. The letter sent by Al-Sisi addressed Parliament Speaker Ali Abdul Aal, who read it out at the beginning of the session.
“ We [the presidency] notify the House of Representatives that Sherif Ismail is assigned as prime minister, along with his cabinet as it is currently formed, who shall in turn present to you their programme,” the presidential letter stated, as reported by the parliament’s official website.
The president exercised his right, according to Article 146 of the Constitution, which states: “The president of the republic shall assign a prime minister to form the government and introduce his/her programme to the House of Representatives.”
“We are hoping that the cabinet will earn the confidence of the people, represented by your parliament, to enhance cooperation between the legislative and executive powers,” Al-Sisi said.
The presidential announcement is procedural, as per constitutional requirements. “The president must officially present to the parliament the cabinet he wishes to assign,” Youssry Al-Azabawy of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt on Sunday.
According to the same constitutional article: “If [Al-Sisi’s] government does not win the confidence of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives within 30 days at the most, the president shall appoint a prime minister who is nominated by the party or the coalition that holds the majority or the highest number of seats in the House of Representatives.”
In Al-Azabawy’s opinion, Ismail’s statement was “satisfying”. He explained that “for the first time in years the government took into account strategies aimed at political reform. In general, I believe what Ismail presented aligns with Egypt’s Development Strategy for 2030 and provides precise implementation steps, with specific timelines”.
However, MPs did not share the same initial impressions, announcing that the statement lacked details. Ismail said, during his speech, that a detailed copy of the programme was distributed to the MPs. The copy is in excess of 200 pages and will require time to evaluate.
The cabinet also issued another 80-page report with the outline of the most important axes of the programme, which were summarised in Ismail’s statement within major points related national security protection, building of a modern democratic nation, comprehensive economic strategy and social justice.
The statement mostly focused on economic issues, as political and human rights reform took the backseat.
First reactions to the prime minister’s statement
Ismail spoke of several economic rates that need improvement, providing the percentages targeted by the programme for fiscal year (FY) 2019/2020. They included the reduction of the budget deficit from 11.5% to 8%, the inflation rate from 11.5% to 9%, unemployment rates to 11%, as well as an increase of the growth rate to 6.5% by 2017/2018 and of national savings from 6% to 9%.
“The principles of our work was based on putting less privileged citizens at the core of the development process, integrating the private sector, combating bureaucracy and corruption, and reforming the state’s administrative bodies,” Ismail stated.
“Also taking into consideration social justice, we have plans for boosting education, housing, and health,” he added.
According to MP Khaled Shaaban, “these are still big headlines”. He told Daily News Egypt, following the speech: “I cannot really evaluate the cabinet based on this statement; I have to carefully go through the details of the programme that we obtained a copy of.”
“For instance, I am not sure how the government is going to apply escalating taxes on income while at the same time taking into consideration low- and medium-income categories. What we are looking for in this programme are real solutions, such as how to guarantee the rights of the minorities in Egypt,” he explained.
On a similar note, MP Haitham El-Hariri stated that “in general the speech sounds satisfying, but I did not grasp any real solutions or precise steps as to how those goals are to be achieved.”
“Some plans seemed to have timeframes, others do not. We did not understand where the government will obtain its resources,” El-Hariri said. “I have so many questions regarding the subsidies system, the price of energy resources, just so many things to look at and evaluate,” he added.
Meanwhile, Emad Raouf, a member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptians Party which formed a committee tasked with examining and assessing the government’s programme, found the economic aspects presented by Ismail to be encouraging, though he admitted they lacked some detail.
“One of the things we stopped at is Ismail’s talk of about pumping billions of money into several projects, without mentioning how Egypt will obtain such resources,” Raouf told Daily News Egypt, according to a primary assessment of the programme.
“On the surface, it looks good, but we need to dissect every single detail,” he added.
Internal disputes arise as ‘Egypt’s Support’ overrepresented in assessment committee
The parliament formed a 50-member committee tasked with reading and scrutinising the cabinet’s programme, then presenting its first report to the parliament. There have been no announced grounds for the formation of the committee, amid complaints that the ‘Egypt’s Support’ coalition “took over” the committee.
The new parliamentary by-law stipulates that the selection of the committee’s members should be based on proportional representation of each faction or party inside the parliament.
“For instance, the FEP holds 11% of parliamentary seats and therefore we expect the same representation inside the committee. Currently we only have two members in it, while we see most of the current committee’s members from Egypt’s Support coalition,” Raouf stated.
El-Hariri supported the claim and said many names in the committee were indeed from ‘Egypt’s Support’ but that he did not know on which basis the members were selected.
Ongoing issue of live broadcast for parliamentary session
Ismail’s speech was not aired live on television to the public, despite promises by Deputy Parliament Speaker Mahmoud El-Sharif, as well as an opinion in favour of the live broadcast made by Minister of Transitional Justice and Parliament Affairs Magdy Al-Agaty in statements Saturday.
El-Hariri told Daily News Egypt on Sunday morning that he believes Ismail’s statement could be even more significant to the public than the speeches of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi “because it will tackle every aspect of their lives and present implementation steps towards improvement”.
This comes as parliamentary sessions have unfolded off-air since January. The decision was contested by some MPs who argued that it was necessary to ensure transparency in parliament proceedings, while others viewed media pressure as an obstacle to their work.
“For instance I remember that our first sessions lasted for more than 12 consecutive hours. We also spent continuous hours working during other sessions, but I noticed that instead of shedding light on our efforts, the media would rather get a scoop of an MP eating some sweets, and the like,” MP Amna Nosseir commented to Daily News Egypt.
For Nosseir, the parliament’s decision stems from a dispute with the media, whereas El-Hariri does not see the decision as “protecting MPs’ work” but rather as covering up for them.
He told Daily News Egypt that he opposed the decision to suspend the broadcasting of the sessions, and that he even joined a lawsuit filed by the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) in solidarity with demands to annul the parliament’s decision.
State-affiliated TV channel Sout Al-Shaab broadcast excerpts of parliamentary sessions, but not live. It is unclear whether parts are omitted.
Shortly after Ismail made his statement, it was broadcast on Sout Al-Shaab, causing El-Hariri to question: “What was the point of not having it aired live?”
“In my opinion, MPs should know they are being watched, not by the media, but by the people who voted for them. The pressure of public opinion could be a tool to rectify unacceptable behaviour and hold MPs accountable,” he concluded.