With the Cabinet’s approval of a legislative package that will govern the long-delayed parliamentary elections, ongoing debate as to the arguable constitutionality of these bills has some questioning if there is real political will to seat a new parliament.
Several political parties have argued that even with the new amendments, the electoral laws are still deeply flawed, particularly when it comes to the distribution of electoral constituencies, the dominance of an individual seat system over a party list system, the inclusion of dual nationals, and the lack of serious measures to monitor the funding of political campaigns.
Members of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration met with political party representatives earlier this week, but the bills approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday showed that government officials largely turned a blind eye to the parties’ demands when redrafting the controversial legislation.
In the absence of an elected parliament, Sisi has availed himself of his de facto legislative powers to issue 310 new laws since he was elected president in June 2014. Most of those laws have been harshly criticized by left-leaning political forces, who view them as buttressing Sisi’s iron fist over the political arena. Sisi’s predecessor, interim President Adly Mansour, issued another 40 laws during his brief period in office, chief among them the hotly contested Protest Law, Terrorism Law, Investment Law and Civil Servants Law. Mansour also passed several amendments to the Penal Code, including the criminalization of receiving foreign funds under certain broadly defined circumstances.
Critics believe that the current administration would prefer to hold onto its full control over the legislative authority, rather than pass it over to a parliament. In an interview with the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egyptian Social Democratic Party president Mohamed Aboul Ghar accused Sisi of dragging his heels when it comes to allowing parliamentary elections to take place.
“The president does not want a parliament now,” Aboul Ghar claimed. “That’s why the call for parliamentary elections came so late, and that’s why the state issued so many laws in the absence of parliament. A lot of these laws are unconstitutional. Some restrict Egypt’s civil freedoms and turn it into a police state, while other laws were issued even though they were not urgently needed.”
For Aboul Ghafar, the current political climate clearly indicates that the Sisi administration has no real will to reinstate parliament, or in a best case scenario, is trying to form a very weak parliamentary body.
Political analyst Abdallah al-Sinawy agrees, explaining to Mada Masr that the state’s reactions to various developments in the electoral process show that the administration is in no hurry to get voters to the polls.
But “a president with full executive and legislative powers hinders the administration’s stability and legitimacy, locally and internationally,” Sinawy warned. He questioned the motives behind the government’s last meeting with political forces, given that it didn’t seem to have any impact on the redrafting of the electoral laws.
“The government is acting very randomly,” he argued.
Other analysts have also argued that Sis’s government is in dire need of a parliament, again for the sake of its legitimacy. Given the perception that support for Sisi is dwindling, combined with mounting security threats and economic challenges, the president needs another official entity to share some of the blame, they say.
Ramy Mohsen, director of the National Center for Parliamentary Consultancy, told Mada Masr that Sisi has leveraged his legislative powers to a historicaly unprecedented level.
“Due to this specific reason, the administration is eager to have a parliament as soon as possible. It is very important to complete the roadmap, and is the only guarantee for local and international observers that Egypt is really transitioning toward democracy,” Mohsen asserted. He added that none of the high-profile economic deals made at the Egypt Economic Development Conference last month would be executed without parliamentary approval.
Mohsen attended most of the government’s negotiations with political forces, and he turned his criticism toward the parties themselves, claiming they were proposing unrealistic and, at times, even unconstitutional amendments to the electoral laws.
There is no real consensus among political parties over their demands, Mohsen contended. The only consensus was to raise the number of constituencies allocated for party lists from four to eight, “which was never accepted by the government, for unknown reasons,” he said.
Mohamed al-Agaty, director of the Arab Alternative Forum, holds the middle ground in this debate. While he agrees that the government needs to seat a parliament very soon, he also believes that any parliament elected under the laws approved by the Cabinet this week would essentially be powerless.
“The regime wants a parliament controlled completely by the executive branch. We have seen direct intervention from the security apparatus in the formation of the electoral lists. The regime wants a parliament of sycophants,” Agaty claimed.
But Sinawy warns that this could be a dangerous road to take.
“Powerless parliaments were used by the former regimes, including [former President Hosni] Mubarak and [former President Anwar al-] Sadat,” said Sinawy. “They failed miserably, and ultimately acted against the own interests of both regimes. We all saw what a powerless parliament did to Mubarak in 2010.”