All eyes are now on parliament’s new committees and the laws they are in the process of reviewing, following the chaotic convening of the legislative body on January 10 and a decision to ban the live broadcasting of its sessions.
According to Article 156 of the Constitution, the parliament is obliged to review all the laws passed in its absence, which technically means in the period between the approval of the Constitution and the convening of parliament. Parliamentarians are only permitted 15 days to review 340 laws issued by former President Adly Mansour and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the period from January 18, 2014 until now.
However, there are around 50 other laws, many of them more contentious than those parliament is currently reviewing, which were issued by Mansour before January 18, 2014, and therefore may not be reviewed.
A constitutional decree, issued in July 2013 when Mansour was interim president, gave him legislative authority, resulting in the decree of several laws. It is now up to the current parliament to determine whether or not it will review the laws passed by Mansour in this period, from July 3, 2013 until January 18, 2014.
Among these is the controversial protest law, which Mansour issued in November 2013 and has been used to jail large numbers of oppositional protesters. It has also given police the power to cancel demonstrations and public meetings that have not obtained prior consent from the Interior Ministry, as well as to crack down on labor and workplace strikes.
Also among the decrees that may not be reviewed is an amendment to the criminal procedural law, which was announced in September 2013, and permits the extension of pretrial detention periods beyond two years in certain cases. The law had previously set the maximum period of pretrial detention at two years, but the amendment allowed both the Appeals and Criminal Courts to extend this period for thousands of defendants implicated in terrorism and violence cases.
Member of parliament Haitham al-Hariry told Mada Masr that the protest law won’t be amended or annulled regardless of whether parliament reviews these laws or not. “The current makeup of the parliament and the affiliations of the majority of its members indicates the absence of will to amend the protest law or any other laws that place limitations on rights and freedoms and were released in the last two years. The conditions did not change [with the election of the parliament], and I don’t expect them to change.”
Hariry asserted that he would recommend the amending of the law at a later date, with the support of the National Council for Human Rights.
“The law was criticized by everyone, and does not organize the right to protest, but technically restricts it and is unconstitutional. Not amending the law and the absence of will for it will end any calls for reconciliation with the youth,” he added.
Hariry said the amending of these laws will be dependent not only on political parties, but pressure from civil society groups and the general public, as he explains that he and other parliamentarians are restricted by parliament’s bylaws.
Mansour also issued a decree granting ministers the power to contract projects without putting them out to tender in certain cases, and another facilitating reconciliation between those embroiled in tax disputes and the Taxation Authority.
Lawyer at the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights, Mohamed Adel, explained to Mada Masr that both legislative amendments were designed to protect privatization deals deemed illegal by the Administrative Court, including those by major state-owned companies like Omar Effendi and Misr Shebin al-Kom Spinning and Weaving Company, which were contracted by direct ministerial orders without tender processes.
“These laws that Mansour issued are a flagrant intervention by the executive authority to protect illegal deals carried out by former governments through corruption. [Mansour] circumvented the law,” Adel claims, adding that not reviewing them is a dangerous sign that opens up possibilities for further governmental corruption, as well as protecting previously corrupt deals.
In August 2013, Mansour amended some articles of the Penal Code, canceling jail sentences for insulting the president, and reducing fines paid by journalists for the same charge to LE10,000.
The former president also amended laws concerning conflicts of interests for state officials and stipulated the formation of a committee to prevent corruption, which was tasked with implementing these laws and monitoring their application.
Mansour also annulled the pensions law and introduced some amendments to social insurance legislation, increasing pensions for those in government and the private sector.
Some of the provisions of the journalism law were also amended, especially those related to the formation of the Supreme Journalism Council. He also issued laws limiting licenses for taxis manufactured 20 or more years ago.
Several local rights organizations released a statement on Tuesday listing the most important areas of legislation parliament should focus on and reiterating the need to do so within the limits of the constitution, including reviewing the government’s anti-terrorism policies.
The organizations specifically stressed the implementation of constitutional guarantees related to judicial independence, transitional justice, women and children rights, social and economic rights, media independence and ending incitement and hate speech, as well as working on signing international human rights treaties.
“In this context, the undersigned organizations urge the parliament to look closely at the laws adopted over the past five years that show not even a minimum regard for individual rights and liberties and violate constitutional provisions,” the statement asserted.
“We stress that restoring stability is impossible without mutual understanding and constructive dialogue among all peaceful civil and political actors, including rights groups and the parliament.”