Monday, January 11, 2016

Is Egypt's New Parliamentary Speaker Just New Spin on Old Story?
Gamal Essam El-Din
Monday 11 Jan 2016

The election of constitutional law professor Ali Abdel-Al ‎as speaker of Egypt's new parliament was ‎blasted by different independent MPs as an extension ‎of Mubarak-era politics

In a stormy session on Sunday, Ali Abdel-Al, a ‎constitutional law professor, was elected as speaker of ‎Egypt's new parliament.

Although Abdel-Al won the ‎post by winning a two-thirds majority (401 votes), his ‎election was criticised by many independent MPs as ‎continuing the legacy of Hosni Mubarak and his now-defunct ‎ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).‎

According to independent MP and TV ‎anchor Tawfik Okasha, "the election of Abdel-Al was a ‎big mistake because he is an old guard figure who ‎represents an extension of the autocratic politics of the ‎former NDP and even further back, to 60 years ago."‎

Okasha, one of seven MPs who competed for the post of ‎the speaker, told parliamentary reporters on Sunday night ‎that "the election of Abdel-Al should ring alarm bells ‎about the current situation of politics in Egypt." ‎

The well-known media figure argued that MPs, both independent and party members, came under pressure from "higher circles" ‎to elect Abdel-Al in "Mubarak-style" politics.

‎‎"As a result, his election was a foregone ‎conclusion and not a result of a competitive election as ‎we hoped," said Okasha.‎

Okasha described Abdel-Al as highly autocratic person. ‎‎"Compared to the open-minded Fathi Sorour - the ‎longest-serving parliamentary speaker in Egypt's history ‎‎(in post from 1990 to 2010) – Abdel-Al is a hot-tempered professor who ‎cannot easily tolerate rival opinions and this is very ‎dangerous for the future of our new parliament which I ‎fear could collapse in weeks or even months." ‎

Okasha wondered "is this what those who chose him for ‎this post wanted?"

He said the way Abdel-Al ran the first procedural ‎sitting after his election clearly exposes his autocratic ‎instincts. "I was shocked when Abdel-Al refused to ‎allow independent MPs to contradict his interpretation ‎of the constitution by asserting that he is the one who ‎drafted this constitution and that he knows each of its ‎articles by heart," he said.

When he submitted his bid for the post of ‎speaker, Okasha introduced himself as "the voice of the ‎‎30 June revolution" which removed former president ‎Mohamed Morsi from office.

He urged MPs not to ‎elect a constitutional law professor as speaker. "These ‎kind of speakers usually know nothing about popular ‎politics and the only thing they can do is to tailor laws ‎and turn parliaments into rubber-stamping tools," said ‎Okasha.

He nonetheless received just 25 votes, compared to the 401 votes ‎Abdel-Al gained. ‎

Okasha became a member of parliament for the first in ‎‎2010 as an independent but he later joined Mubarak's ‎NDP. The 2010 parliament was quickly dissolved after ‎Mubarak ceded power in 11 February 2011.‎

Agreeing with Okasha, independent MP Kamal Ahmed ‎also slammed the process of electing Abdel-Al as ‎"undemocratic."

Ahmed, who also ran for the speaker's post, said "the ‎election of Abdel-Al was completed in a democratic ‎way but the way he was selected to run for the post of ‎the speaker was undemocratic and reflected a high level ‎of opportunism." ‎

Ahmed, an old-time leftist who got 36 votes, said ‎‎"Abdel-Al was selected by the 'Pro-Egyptian State In ‎Support of Egypt Coalition' which now acts like ‎Mubarak's NDP, and as a result his election came as a ‎foregone conclusion."

"If they had allowed the election ‎of the speaker to be competitive, it would have sent a ‎new democratic message to the outside world."‎

Ahmed, an MP from the city of Alexandria, also slammed ‎Abdel-Al for describing President Abdel-Fattah ‎El-Sisi as "the leader of Egypt's new march."

"This is ‎really an extension of Mubarak-era politics," he said.‎

He did however say that he welcomes the election of ‎Abdel-Al. "Anyway, this is not the time for political ‎feuding and jockeying because Egypt is in a very difficult ‎crisis and parliament should work in harmony to help ‎get it out of this crisis," he said.‎

In a word about his bid for the speaker's post, Abdel-Al ‎said he graduated from Ain Shams ‎University's Faculty of Law in 1972.

"I am a professor of constitutional ‎and administrative law and after I graduated I joined ‎the office of Egypt's prosecutor-general," said Abdel-Al, ‎adding that "I later got a Master's degree [in 1973] ‎and then I received a PhD in constitutional law from ‎the Sorbonne University in Paris [in 1984], and I ‎played a big role in drafting the current constitution of ‎Egypt."‎

Abdel-Al, who is 68 years old and comes from the upper Egypt ‎governorate of Aswan, also said that he acted for a long time ‎as a constitutional advisor to the emir of Kuwait, and ‎that he drafted the constitution of Ethiopia in 1993.

‎Abdel-Al's resume also shows that he worked for some ‎time as a cultural attaché at Egypt's embassy in France ‎in 1987.

Abdel-Al has written a number of different books on law and ‎parliaments, including a work titled The Political and Legal Ramifications of the Disbanding of Parliaments.‎

Once elected speaker, Abdel-Al lashed out at two ‎independent MPs – Ihab El-Khouli and Hesham Magdi – ‎who challenged his interpretation of the constitution, telling them: "I am the one who drafted this ‎constitution and I know all of its articles by heart."‎

Abdel-Al said he will do his best to be neutral and ‎to give all MPs the floor to express their opinion.‎

Emad Gad, a political analyst and MP affiliated with ‎the Free Egyptians Party, told reporters that he differs ‎with Okasha and Ahmed.

"The election of Abdel-Al ‎reflected a high level of competition and it was never ‎a foregone conclusion," said Gad, arguing that "in all countries, parliamentary blocs aim to reach a ‎prior agreement on their candidates for the post of the ‎speaker."

"But let me also insist that the majority of MPs ‎were convinced that Abdel-Al is the most qualified MP ‎to be the speaker in his capacity not only as a long-time ‎constitutional law professor, but also as a conservative ‎politician who can build bridges with the president and ‎the government and the judiciary," said Gad.‎

In Gad's view, "I urge deputies not to summon the ‎ghosts of NDP politics every time things do not go their ‎way." ‎

Gad, however, criticised Abdel-Al for his description of ‎President El-Sisi as "the leader of Egypt's new march."

"I ‎think he should have been keen not to use this kind of ‎bad term, which people used to hear for decades about ‎Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak and even Morsi."‎

Gad said while Abdel-Al should be a man with a strong ‎personality in order to be able to tame the "unruly" MPs or to manage a parliament with 596 deputies, he should at the ‎same time be "an open-minded speaker who can reflect the ‎diversity of opinion and viewpoints in the new ‎parliament." ‎

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