By Abdullah Al-Arian
The final step in the restoration of Egypt’s authoritarian system of government appears to be complete.
Ali Abdel Al is elected speaker of Egypt’s parliament [REUTERS]
Popular talk-show host and long-time Sisi supporter Tawfik Okasha received the highest number of votes but after he was sidelined in his effort to become speaker of the parliament, he claimed that the major decisions regarding the parliament were being shaped directly by Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS). With its close ties to the president, the GIS has reportedly played the role of conduit with a parliament that lacks internal cohesion or a strong party presence.
Affirming these reports, Hazem Abdel Azeem, a one-time rising star under Sisi and a key member of his presidential campaign, published a first-hand account of his attendance of several meetings last year at GIS headquarters.
At these meetings, not only did intelligence officials indicate that they were handpicking the individual candidates for the upcoming elections, but they also claimed a target of 400 members of parliament – the two-thirds super majority required to pass constitutional amendments.
Incidentally, in its very first vote of the new session, the parliament elected Ali Abdel Al speaker, with 401 members voting in favour of his candidacy.
Abdel Azeem condemned the close ties between the presidency and the new parliament as an unfair abuse of power that went beyond the standard vote rigging for which Egyptian elections had long been known. In fact, the emerging role of such state institutions in politics signals a dramatic shift away from the traditional place of parties such as the NDP as the base of political support for an authoritarian president.
Instead, Sisi has demonstrated his severe distrust of Egyptian politics with the aim of creating an alternative centre of power that he can more directly control away from public view. Among the legislative initiatives to be taken up by the new parliament are efforts to extend the presidential term from four to six years and a proposal to do away with the two-term limit on the presidency.
Moreover, in the true definition of a rubber stamp, the new parliament is constitutionally bound to consider Sisi’s more than 300 legislative orders in just 15 days. Among those, the removal of state subsidies required for the basic survival of millions of Egyptians, and major pay increases in the salaries of army officers and judges.
Another major initiative undertaken by Sisi involves a controversial agreement that he signed last spring with Ethiopia on water rights in the Nile. While the parliament is expected to retroactively provide its enthusiastic endorsement of the deal, recent reports about the critical effect it would have on Egypt’s access to water suggests that, despite the consolidation of political power in his hands, Sisi’s problems are only likely to multiply.