Roses for Sisi and Thorns for the People — The Egyptian Parliament Is at the Heart of the Crisis

a year ago




In light of the severe economic crisis that Egypt has been experiencing for months, citizens are wondering about the role of Parliament as one of the most important oversight institutions of the state.

The questions came with the emergence of controversial discussions due to the current Egyptian Speaker of Parliament Hanafy Ali el-Gebali’s mismanagement during the economic crisis.

Between the text and the practice, the role of Parliament appears, whether strong, representative of the nation, or weak, made in the eye of the ruler, complementing his policy.

According to Chapter Five of the Egyptian Constitution, Article 101 states that the House of Representatives shall assume the power to legislate, approve the public policy and the general plan for economic and social development and the state’s general budget, and exercise oversight over the actions of the executive authority (the presidency and the government).

Egypt is one of the oldest countries in the East that believed in parliament and legislative councils; the first people’s assembly was established in 1866.

But today, after more than a century and a half, the Egyptian country does not maintain a strong parliament that represents the citizens, monitors the government, and holds it accountable amidst unparalleled fragmentation.

On January 11, 2023, the Egyptian pound fell to an all-time low of 32.20 per dollar.

This came as a result of the Egyptian regime starting to move the exchange rate following the International Monetary Fund loan agreement in order to obtain a loan of $ 3 billion.


El-Gebali Warnings

At the heart of the Egyptian economic crisis, Parliament Speaker Hanafy Ali el-Gebali met, on January 12, 2023, with the heads of the specific committees and parliamentary bodies of the parties.

The main focus of the meeting was discussing the intensifying criticism of some deputies of the government because of the current financial crisis and the demand of some ministers to change current policies due to the suffering of citizens from the high prices of basic commodities.

El-Gebali strictly directed the deputies not to publicly criticize economic policies in the plenary sessions of parliament, whether financial and monetary or related to loans and debts, and ordered not to submit urgent statements, questions, or requests for information.

All of this was under the pretext of the importance of standing by the state and its institutions and the need to confront attempts to “destabilize the country,” according to his claim.

El-Gebali did not only ignore the difficult stage that the Egyptian people were going through but rather went to provocation when he sent a letter on December 29, 2022, that was full of praise to Sisi on the occasion of the new year.

El-Gebali stated in his letter: “It is with great pleasure sending you, in my name, and in the name of the people’s deputies, my sincere congratulations and best wishes on the occasion of the new year, when the Egyptian people rose to the highest levels of happiness and prosperity and wore the garments of pride, strength, security, and safety.”

El-Gebali’s speech came in light of a wave of sharp rises in the prices of food commodities following the devaluation of the Egyptian pound for the third time in less than a year when it crossed 30 pounds against 1 dollar.


A Country in Crisis

On January 18, 2023, the Financial Times published a report on the deterioration of economic conditions in Egypt, which contradicts the statements of the Speaker of Parliament.

It reported that Sisi has not fulfilled his promises of great achievements and prosperity; instead, he made millions of Egyptians struggle for food.

“Tens of millions of people will be struggling to put food on their tables as the Egyptian pound has fallen to record lows and inflation soars above 20 percent. The private sector is grappling with an almost year-long foreign currency shortage that is choking businesses. Egypt is a country in crisis.”

The business newspaper explained: “Like much of the world, the Arab state was hit hard by COVID and is enduring headwinds caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine. But Sisi’s autocratic regime is also squarely to blame as it has presided over a state living beyond its means.

“Last year, Cairo was forced to go to the IMF for the fourth time in six years. Even before that $3bn loan was secured in October, Egypt was the fund’s second biggest debtor after Argentina. At the core of its problems is an over-reliance on hot money flowing into its domestic debt as a source of foreign currency, and the muscular expansion of the military’s footprint across the economy.”

It added: “The vulnerabilities of the former were exposed when investors withdrew about $20bn from Egyptian debt around the time Russia invaded Ukraine. Egypt, which had been paying the world’s highest real interest rate to attract the portfolio inflows while artificially propping up the pound, was forced to turn to Gulf states for bailouts. The central bank has since been devaluing the pound in phases to bring supply-demand equilibrium to the forex market. It has agreed with the IMF to move to a flexible exchange rate, with the pound down about a third against the dollar since October.

“The deeper problem is the military’s role in the economy, which stretches from petrol stations to greenhouses, pasta factories, cement plants, hotels, transport, and beyond. It also oversees hundreds of state infrastructure developments, including vanity projects such as building a new administrative capital and cities in the desert.”

The Financial Times also said that this deterioration comes in light of the complete absence of Parliament.


Military Interface

The Egyptian political researcher, Mohamed Maher, said that parliaments in major countries have the function of oversight and accountability over the executive authority, as well as the enactment of legislation that is in the interest of the people.

But in Egypt, what is happening is completely the opposite. Parliament is a front for the system, and its function is to limit censorship and develop legislation by orders of the supreme authority and the President of the Republic while curbing any movement that leads to holding the ruler accountable and limiting his absolute powers, he explained to Al-Estiklal.

“Hanafy Ali el-Gebali, the judge of the negligence scandal in Tiran and Sanafir. We should not start by blaming him because now, we have already suffered from the consequences: the crushing economic crisis, the tragedy of debts, loans, privatization, and selling the country; rather, we must start by asking the question: How was this Parliament built? And who created it this way? And what role is it supposed to play in such situations?”

He explained: “The answers are simple, the parliament in 2023 and in 2015 was built by the intelligence services headed by Abbas Kamel and Mahmoud el-Sisi [the son of the president of the regime], and also control, direct and determine its path, even Hanafy Ali el-Gebali is ‘a front’, he has no control over the matter.”

He added: “All the parliamentary electoral lists in 2020 were in the eye of the regime, but it defeated the National List for Egypt, specifically the Nation’s Future Party.”

This is due to the fact that it is “the party of the military and intelligence in Egypt, so let’s imagine when this party is dominant in the House of Representatives, how will the performance be then?” he said.

The Egyptian researcher gave another example and said: “We will find that the parliament, since its first session, raised military pensions more than once, and approved the law establishing a special fund for the military and police martyrs, and refused to include doctors in this fund despite the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He continued: “Currently, the council is working to absorb the economic crisis, keep it away from Sisi, and create a charade to hold some ministers accountable.

“This parliament is completely similar to Egypt’s situation in the current era, and therefore it is one of the worst parliaments that the country has witnessed in its history.”