Hassan Abdel Zaher is a Cairo-based contributor to The Arab Weekly.

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  • Egypt Support Coalition chief denies manipulating parliament

    Huge responsibility. MP Mohamed al-Suwaidi, head of the Egypt Support Coalition. (Egypt Support Coalition)

    2017/11/05 Issue: 130 Page: 11

    Cairo- The Egypt Support Coali­tion is the largest political force backing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al- Sisi in parliament.

    The coalition, which controls 350 seats out of the 596 in parliament, said it is on a mission to defend and protect Egypt, not just support the president. Critics argue the coali­tion is using its parliamentary ma­jority to stifle dissent and silence opposition.

    “It is only about creating the nec­essary political force to push our country forward,” said MP Moham­ed al-Suwaidi, the coalition leader. “The opposition has total freedom to express itself but we are not sup­posed to listen to or let those who only want to talk waste the time of the legislature.”

    Opponents said the policy is not much different than the stran­glehold the National Democratic Party — the ruling party of former President Hosni Mubarak — utilised during decades of control over the legislature.

    “The coalition totally controls parliament and offers little room for those who have a different point of view to express themselves,” said MP Samir Ghattas, a left-wing independent opposition lawmaker. “Its members bully the opposition either into silence or expressing similar stances.”

    Ghattas said he has been a victim of this policy, including being for­cibly expelled from parliamentary sessions for voicing objections. He was subsequently referred to a special disciplinary committee for breaching parliamentary by-laws and “insulting parliament.”

    For Suwaidi and his parliamen­tary majority bloc, the ability to control debate is not based on a de­sire to silence opposition but a rush to enact legislation to address the many issues facing Egypt.

    Suwaidi, a well-known Egyptian businessman who turned to poli­tics in recent years, took over as head of the coalition in September 2016, succeeding Saad al-Gamal. To control this large coalition, Suwaidi works to coordinate positions, col­lect views and decide the direction the coalition should take on eco­nomic, political, security and social developments.

    He can often be found in the cor­ridors of parliament calling on coa­lition members, pushing for heavy attendance and calculating the number of votes that any bill is needed to pass.

    “Our coalition has a huge responsibility given our control of the major­ity of parlia­mentary seats,” Suwaidi said.

    “Coalition members consider the improvement of social servic­es, the fight against terrorism and the advancement of the economy their personal battle,” he added. “We have no time for political manipula­tion but politics is about rivalry and the opponents should know this.”

    The Egypt Support Coalition was formed two years ago, a short time before the first parliamentary elec­tions following the ouster of Islam­ist President Muhammad Morsi in 2013.

    Egypt Support Coalition includes 101 MPs from seven major political parties — the Homeland Defenders Party, Egypt My Country Party, Na­tion’s Future Party, the Congress Party, the Republican People’s Party, the Freedom Party and the Modern Egypt Party. The rest of its 249 mem­bers are independents.

    A veteran military officer, Sisi had little experience in Egyptian politics and his popularity seemingly rests on his independent stature and mili­tary background. Despite this, any president needs parliamentary sup­port to enact his plans. This is where the Egypt Support Coalition comes in.

    “There was a need for a major political force to back the president and the government inside parlia­ment to help them succeed,” said MP Maysa Attwa, a member of the coalition.

    It is morphing into more than just a government or Sisi-backing group. Its parliamentary majority gives it the ability to amend and influence bills and shape political debate in Egypt.

    One coalition member recently called for a bill lengthening the presidential term from four years to six years. Another effort was made to lift restrictions on the number of terms that a president can serve. Both calls saw debate around the role and powers of the president reach fever pitch ahead of Egypt’s presidential elections next year.

    Sisi has yet to officially say whether he intends to seek re-elec­tion. The Egypt Support Coalition has announced it would “mobilise” to launch a campaign to “demand” that Sisi runs.

    The coalition has put its full weight behind legislation that promises to revolutionise invest­ment procedures in Egypt and attract much-needed foreign in­vestments. It also pushed for the passing of an amendment to the criminal procedures law that aims to fast-track court trials.

    “Huge work is being done by the members of the coalition, all for the best interests of the people,” Su­waidi said.

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