The sixth legislative session of the outgoing House of Representatives, voted in during 2015, ended on Saturday, giving the greenlight for a second post-30 June Revolution parliament to begin its journey.
The new parliament, which was elected in 2020 but will be effective in 2021, will hold its opening session on Tuesday, which will be aired live on state TV, after President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi issued a decree on Thursday asking the new House of Representatives to convene on 12 January.
It is also a parliament of remarkable diversity, showcasing a wide array of competencies and expertise, as 13 political parties, 472 party members, and 93 independent members are represented in the new parliament. This comes in addition to significant representation through female Members of Parliament (MPs) who are a notable feature of this legislative term.
At the beginning of each legislative term, the parliament holds a morning session headed by the oldest MP present, and assisted by the two youngest MPs. This time, the opening session will be chaired by prominent writer Farida El-Shobashy, as the eldest member in the House, and MPs Fatma Selim and Abanoub Ezzat, who will assist her as the youngest.
During the opening session, MPs will elect the Parliament Speaker and their deputies, while all members are to take the constitutional oath over two phases. Ali Abdel-Aal, the speaker of the outgoing parliament, is widely expected to be re-elected for another five years.
Mahmoud Fawzi, Secretary-General of the Egyptian parliament, said that not all elected MPs will be able to gather in one place to take the constitutional oath.
This is due to the precautionary measures which have been put in place against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Instead, the process will be divided into stages and groups.
“In the first stage, a group of 284 MPs elected via the individual candidacy system will be asked to gather in the meeting hall to take the oath,” Fawzi said, “When each MP hears their name and membership number, they will be asked to take the oath and cast their vote in a box to elect a speaker and two deputies.”
Fawzi added that once all individual MPs finish this job, the meeting hall will be closed and sanitised.
In the second stage, more 284 MPs, those who were elected through the party list system, will be allowed to enter the hall to take the oath and cast votes, said Fawzi.
He added that the 28 appointees will be the last to take the constitutional oath and elect a speaker, and that the session on Tuesday is expected to be very long. He also noted that this is necessary, as each of the three phases have to take place.
Diversity of political parties
A number of MPs in the new House of Representatives agreed that the next parliament will be different from previous parliaments, due to the diversity in political parties it enjoys. All noted that this enriches political life in Egypt and gives it great momentum.
MP Mohamed Al-Amari said that the new parliament is the first to witness such diversity, as it includes an unprecedented 13 parties and a large number of independents. He added that this gives great hope, and diversity in the parties’ performance is expected under the guise of enriching partisan practice.
For his part, MP Abdel-Wahab Khalil said that the new parliament differs from the previous one, not only due to the greater diversity, but also because there is greater party pluralism which enriches Egypt’s political life.
Khalil also said that this will be reflected in the situation on the Egyptian street in general, as the work will be within the framework of the public interest and the citizen at the same time.
He added that he seeks to focus on providing and improving public services during the coming period, such as health and education. This does not mean, however, that the legislative aspect will be neglected, as this is just as important area of work for any Parliament as monitoring public services.
Khalil praised the great boom the country is witnessing, especially in developing informal settlements. He pointed out that the nationwide achievements Egypt is seeing speak for themselves, which can notably be seen in its efforts to develop unsafe areas.
The living conditions of Egypt’s poorest citizens have frequently been a contentious issue of concern for the political leadership. In recent years, however, it has received significant state attention, and “there are now no longer informal settlements or at least limited unsafe areas.”
The new Parliament, which continues the idea of ideological diversity that the 2015 Parliament laid the foundation stone for, was able to break a rule that has prevailed for decades in Egypt, and that is of single-party dominance.
The new parliament enjoys diversity with 13 parties represented, which will contribute to enriching parliamentary discussions and ensuring that citizens’ demands are well addressed.
This is over double the number of parties that sat in the Parliament of 2010, which featured only six parties, with the National Democratic Party (NDP) at that time controlling 73% of the seats. The NDP also represented an absolute majority that only ever really expressed the people, but reflected its own voice.
The 2012 parliament, which was elected in the wake of the 25 January Revolution, reflected the large hopes that everyone placed at the time on democracy and the fair representation of all parties without exclusion of anyone’s voice. However, hopes soon vanished, as it became increasingly clear that the Parliament was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the political Islam current.
Although the parliament at that time witnessed representation by 26 parties, it was actually limited to only 18, given the distribution of the Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s religious trends. It also reflected that political subset’s hold on power over a larger number of parties.
The Freedom and Justice Party and the Al-Nour Party both emerged to take about 66% of the seats, in addition to 8% for other parties, such as: the Al-Asala Party; the Building and Development Party; the Al-Hadara Party; the Al-Wasat Party; the Al-Ittihad Party; and the Al-Islah Party.
This ensured that the final tally for the 2012 parliament stood at 18 parties, yet 74% of the seats went to parties with a political Islam focus.
Women in parliament
In the 2020 parliament, women have won 162 seats, following President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to appoint 28 members, half of whom are women.
These appointments ensured that Egyptian women received a high quota in the 568-seat parliament, the highest in the history of Egypt’s parliamentary life. The significant inroads made by female MPs in the new parliament have ensured that this period is the “golden age of Egyptian women.”
According to the Official Gazette last Friday, 14 women were appointed, representing 50% of the total 28 appointees. This comes at a time when women have also managed to win 148 seats by election through the list and individual systems, of which 142 seats were won through the party list system and six were taken up through the individual system.
MP Saboura Al-Sayed praised the move taken by Egypt’s leadership, for the first time in the history of the Egyptian state, in adopting a quota for female MPs in parliament. She noted that this means 25% of Egypt’s new parliament seats went to women.
She pointed out that this parliamentary quota will enable women to take care of all files related to women’s rights, such as the Personal Status Law. It will also allow female MPs to address the problems facing Egyptian women, such as violence against women, as well as challenges that women who are the sole breadwinner for their families face.
It is also noteworthy that the number of youth seats in the new parliament now stands at 90, compared to the 28 they won at the last elections.
New Parliament’s legislative work
Despite the 891 laws and other legislative work that the previous House of Representatives completed during its five-year session, there remain other items on the table that it was unable to resolve due to the legislative agenda’s congestion.
Among these legislations are laws related to religious affairs and endowments, including draft laws that were discussed by the Parliament’s religious committee during the first legislative term. These remain unresolved, with other drafts submitted by the government and others submitted by MPs.
The most prominent laws that will come at the top of the legislative agenda for the new Parliament include: reforming the legislative and institutional system; organising the relationship between the owner and the tenant; the issuance of the Personal Status Law to control the family system; the issuance of Localities Act; and the amendment of the Investment Law.
Also among the laws pending on the list of the new parliament is a draft law relating to organising media appearances for clerics, a draft law to establish a union for authorised notaries, a draft law to establish a union for religious chanting, and a draft law to establish a charitable endowment fund.
MP Ayman Mahsab said that there are a number of laws that will be priorities for the new parliament, namely: the Local Administration Law; the Personal Status Law; the Unified Public Finance Law; the Final Accounts Law; amendments to the Real Estate Tax Law; the Income Tax Law; and the Unified Planning Law.
Mohasab also said that, once the Parliament Speaker is elected and the specialised committees are formed, the legislative work will witness fruitful coordination and cooperation between the two legislative chambers, the House of Representatives and Senate.
He noted that the cooperation between them will enrich parliamentary work at all levels, whether relating to the legislative agenda or international forums. This is due to the large expertise in the two chambers which will help in various fields.
New Parliament’s duties
Ekram Badr El-Din, a Professor of Political Science at Cairo University, said that the 2020 Parliament has great tasks and must respond to the demands and aspirations of every Egyptian citizen.
This should take place by the Parliament’s adopting policies, laws, and legislations related to economic and social aspects that reflect positively on the standard of living for citizens. These should also aim to reduce their burdens, whilst moving towards greater development.
Badr El-Din also said that there must be a role for parliament in activating parliamentary diplomacy to achieve greater cooperation with international parliaments. Parliamentary committees should undertake more visits to different parliaments around the world for political, economic, and cultural exchange.
He added that the new parliament has a role to play in solving the citizen’s fundamental problems with regard to health and unemployment, and helping young people to improve their standards of living. This will take place through more attention and focus on small and micro projects.
He pointed out that parliament will have a pivotal role during the coming period, especially as it enjoys pluralism and the representation of groups of youth and women.