Bumpy road ahead of Egypt’s new parliament speaker
CAIRO - Ali Abdel A’al, Egypt’s new parliament speaker, has been handed the tasks of controlling a body in which there is no majority while leading legislative debates that allow all members, even opponents, to speak freely, analysts say.
Abdel A’al, a 67-year-old professor emeritus of constitutional law, was elected speaker during the parliament’s opening session on January 10th. A total of 401 legislators — out of 580 present — voted for him.
A member of the For the Love of Egypt coalition, which controls 120 of parliament’s 596 seats and backs President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Abdel A’al enjoyed coalition support. That endorsement does not, however, mean that Abdel A’al will have full support inside parliament.
“What will he do if the coalition falters, for example?” asked Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor from Cairo University. “Continued coalition backing will make it easy for the man to lead parliament in fulfilling its mission.”
Almost two-thirds of the members of parliament are independents with no definite political or legislative agendas. The fragmented make-up threatens to hinder the legislature’s work, observers say.
Egyptians had a taste of this fragmentation on January 10th when members needed 17 hours to elect Abdel A’al, the longest such internal polling process in the parliament’s history.
It then took them almost two-thirds of the following day to elect two deputies to the speaker. Legislators locked horns verbally and behaved inappropriately, which caused Abdel A’al to occasionally lose his temper.
Minutes after his election, Abdel A’al had to chastise an MP for speaking without permission. The following day, he warned another MP that he should not speak before he allowed him to.
Analysts, including political science Professor Gehad Auda, say verbal duels often occur inside parliament.
“The important thing is for these duels not to hinder parliament’s work,” he said. “This parliament has an endless list of laws it needs to either approve or draft.”
Some of the laws — more than 400 — were issued by Egypt’s presidents in the past two and a half years in the absence of parliament. MPs now have to debate those laws in first 15 days of work.
Abdel A’al is not new to lawmaking. He was among the writers of the latest election laws and was also part of the ten-member panel that drafted the 2014 constitution.
Nevertheless, Auda says the real test will be for the speaker, a Sisi loyalist, to make parliament a democratic institution welcoming all views.
Abdel A’al vowed to do this, saying he would work to turn the legislature into a forum of “democratic” and “elevated” dialogue between all MPs, regardless of political affiliation.