The cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, is expected to present its programme to the parliament Sunday. The parliament must evaluate the programme within 30 days and issue its decision to either accept the programme, thus renewing confidence in the current government, or to reject it, thereby dissolving Ismail’s cabinet.
In the recent weeks, Ismail undertook extensive efforts to communicate with different groups of MPs, in an attempt to convince them to vote in favour of renewing confidence in the cabinet. Moreover, last Wednesday, the cabinet reshuffled 10 ministries ahead of the presentation of the programme.
According to MP Ayman Aboul Ela of the Free Egyptians Party (FEP), it is difficult to provide a precise assessment of the performance of Ismail’s cabinet. “On one hand, there is no programme yet to serve as the base for such assessment, and on the other hand, some ministers have barely completed a few months in the cabinet.”
Commenting on the recent cabinet reshuffle, Aboul Ela argued that it would make no difference regarding Ismail’s programme. “Since Ismail is the leader of his team, he is the best judge on whose performance was satisfying or not,” he told Daily News Egypt.
“In the end, we are not evaluating persons but rather institutions and we will be looking at the government as a whole, not based on individual ministries,” he added.
Expectations from the cabinet
Parliamentary members have numerous expectations from the government, including a clear project with a specific timeline for the remainder of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s term, set to end in June 2018.
As Aboul Ela put it: “We want a detailed, timetabled programme by the government and we will be evaluating its strategy on the long run. We are going to ask them about their plans to execute the 2030 development that Al-Sisi spoke about, and see if their plan will contribute to making a real, tangible difference in the lives of ordinary citizens.”
Once the cabinet makes its statement to the parliament, its programme will be scrutinised and directed to the parliament’s specialised internal committees, which, according to Aboul Ela, should be formed shortly after cabinet programme.
Moreover, MP Talaat Al-Suwaidi, the head of the Al-Wafd Party’s parliamentary coalition, said “there were many hopes and ambitions placed on the cabinet’s programme”.
“Certainly, economic issues are prioritised over political and social issues and are receiving the largest share of attention, as boosting the economy will enhance those other issues,” Al-Suwaidi told Daily News Egypt.
He pointed to the budget deficit, which he said recorded 11.5%, in addition to highlighting the necessity of raising investments, boosting small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and “more importantly improving the living conditions of citizens and raising their economic status”.
Al-Suwaidi also expects the government to present mechanisms for the execution of the large strokes drawn out by Al-Sisi concerning strategic development, especially in terms of combating unemployment.
“Naturally we cannot speak of development without addressing the underprivileged communities, informal settlements and villages, which are still lacking basic services such as sewage systems and water resources,” Al-Suwaidi said.
Among other issues Al-Suwaidi outlined as crucial for development are the healthcare system, boosting tourism, and enhancing a real industry that would enable exports.
Youth empowerment demanded in cabinet’s economic plans
Al-Sisi has, on numerous occasions, declared that empowering the youth is one of his main aims, along with parliamentary members and political parties, who hope to boost the potential of the younger generations. An initiative launched by Al-Sisi purportedly allocates EGP 200bn from the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to finance youth-led projects.
“As such, we expect the cabinet to tell us how they plan to remove obstacles facing small investors,” Al-Suwaidi assured.
The Egyptian population is estimated at 90,086,267, according to the population census of January 2016, released by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization Statistics (CAPMAS). Out of those, 27.8% are aged between 20 and 34.
Another 40.9% is constituted by youth below 20, including infants aged between zero and four years old. The age groups from 35 to 44 represent 11.6%, while the population aged 45 and above is 19.9%.
Daily News Egypt spoke to two young leaders from youth-oriented political parties that hold a large number of seats inside the parliament: the FEP with 65 seats, as well as the Future of a Nation Party (FNP), led by 24-year-old Mohamed Badran, which has 53 seats.
“We are lucky that young people form more than half of this population, yet we question how it can be that they remain unemployed?” said Emad Raouf, head of the FEP’s political bureau.
“We believe that the youth are the future for the economy,” Raouf argues. “The empowerment of the youth through boosting SMEs has proven to be very efficient in building the economies of destroyed countries, such as post-war Germany,” he explains.
According to Raouf, the main obstacle facing youth entrepreneurship is Egypt’s endless bureaucracy, or, as he puts it: “You have the funds, the labour, and you end up either abandoning your project or making your way in the informal market.”
“Until now, Al-Sisi’s initiative is only on paper; the conditions set for investors are too bureaucratic and make it impossible for startups to launch,” Raouf continued.
When speaking of the future of Egypt’s younger generation, Raouf particularly highlighted new technologies. “This generation had two revolutions using Internet, can’t we make good use of them in developing programmes and applications that can sell well, even beyond Egypt’s borders?” he added.
Similarly, Ahmed Samy, spokesperson of the FNP, said the party is focused on enhancing SMEs. “We expect the cabinet programme to respond to the ambitions of the youth and to integrate them into the economy,” he said.
Samy said this will depend on how the government will respond to unemployment and specify a timeline for lowering current rates. “Moreover, our parliamentary agenda focuses on securing citizens’ basic needs, such as education and employment. We believe it is the only way productivity will improve, and therefore the economy,” Samy said.
The two young politicians also said they view the economy as being in real crisis. Samy pointed to the need to address the dollar crisis, the development of local municipalities, and the improvement of managing mineral resources, livestock and fisheries.
As for Raouf, he spoke of endorsing foreign income through tourism and the Suez Canal revenues, better monetary policies to stop inflated prices, restructuring the subsidies systems, the healthcare system and the issue of water resources in the wake of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which he fears will significantly reduce Egypt’s water resources.
Will political and social issues take the backseat to economic concerns?
The Egyptian government claims that its numerous development projects are aimed towards boosting its economy, which has been in decline for five years. Most of the reshuffles that recently took place in the cabinet were related to the ministers’ economic performance.
As the government presents its programme to the parliament on Sunday, questions arise as to whether political and social issues will take the backseat to economic concerns on both the government’s and the parliament’s agendas.
However, the parliament is bound by the constitution to issue laws during its first legislative terms on several matters related to human rights and social justice. For example, article 235 of the constitution obliges the parliament to issue “a law to regulate constructing and renovating churches, in a manner that guarantees the freedom to practice religious rituals for Christians”.
Moreover, article 241 tackles the need to issue “a law on transitional justice that ensures revealing the truth, accountability, proposing frameworks for national reconciliation, and compensating victims, in accordance with international standards”.
The parliament must also tackle human rights, especially after the European Parliament resolution earlier in March, which prompted censure by some members of parliament due to its criticism of human rights conditions in Egypt. For instance, Al-Suwaidi believed the resolution was based on “wrong information and false perceptions”.
Meanwhile, MP Mohamed Anwar Sadat said the EU parliament resolution was not the problem in itself. “The problem comes from us and we have to face the fact that there are violations of human rights,” he told Daily News Egypt.
However, to Sadat, such violations derive from “exceptional circumstances and security challenges faced in Egypt”. What he advocated is that when such violations occur, they must be “admitted, made public and be met with accountability”.
Sadat has nominated himself for the presidency of the parliament’s internal Human Rights Committee. Among the laws he views as important to reconsider are the anti-terrorism law, the law on terrorist entities and a law allowing the free flow of information.
“Furthermore, I think a serious dialogue should be opened between civil society and government to determine the role of each and prevent interference by the government and security bodies with NGOs work, and also determine the limits of NGOs on the other hand,” he said.
Meanwhile, MP Amna Nosseir believes political stability is as important as and essential to economic stability. “For instance, I have constantly rejected the imprisonment of citizens for expressing their views, especially under the current law on religious contempt, which I oppose,” she told Daily News Egypt.
Nonetheless, education remains the issue that is most pressing for Nosseir. “We do not have the luxury of ignoring this anymore,” she said. Nosseir intends to run for the presidency of the parliament’s internal Education Committee.
Nosseir pointed to the constitution, which states in Article 19 that “education is compulsory until the end of the secondary stage or its equivalent”, and that it should be provided for free by the state, and most importantly, allocates at least 4% of the gross national product (GNP) to education, which shall gradually increase.