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Egypt: The rich and the Brotherhood
By Amira Howeidy in Cairo
Wednesday 14 December 2005
The opposition will hold 105 of the new parliament`s 454 seats
When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak addresses parliament on 17 December, it will be the first time in Egypt`s history that 20% of the MPs will belong to the officially outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
In the elections which ended on 7 December, Mubarak`s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) secured 320 seats after party defectors, who ran as independents, rejoined the ranks.
This gives the NDP 73% control of the new parliament which will hold power until 2010.
Opposition parties and groups which united under the National Front for Change secured only 17 seats.
When added to the Brotherhood`s MPs, the entire opposition comprises 105 seats, nearly 25% of the parliament.
The opposition made up only 10% of the previous parliament.
On Monday, Mubarak appointed 10 members of parliament - five women and five Coptic Christians - bringing the total number of parliamentary seats to 454.
This parliament may prove to be the `wealthiest` in Egypt`s modern history.
According to Amr Hashem Rabie, a parliamentary expert at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, there will be many businessmen among the parliamentary ranks. They include NDP MPs Mustafa El-Sallab, a distributor for several major ceramic companies; Abdel-Menem Ragheb Deif-Allah an Alexandrian billionaire; ceramics magnate Mohamed Abul Enein; steel industrialist Ahmed Ezz; construction magnate Mohamed El-Mourshedi; and hotel-owner Shahinaz El-Naggar.
Rabie believes the presence of so many businessmen will shift debate to issues related to tax exemptions `instead of banking reforms or investment issues - things that matter to the people`.
On the other side is the Muslim Brotherhood, which increased its seats from 17 in the outgoing parliament to 88 this year. In 1995, parliament featured only one Brotherhood MP.
While officially banned, the group is tolerated by the government and it fields its candidates as independents.
The Muslim Brotherhood says it is committed to the National Front for Democratic Change - an umbrella of 11 parties and opposition groups - that was formed one month before the elections.
Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akef is looking to abolish emergency rule
Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamist movements at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said: `They are committed to its 20-point programme which includes transforming Egypt to a parliamentary republican democracy, releasing political detainees and achieving full independence of the judicial authority.`
Last week, the group said its MPs would press for constitutional amendments in articles 76 and 77 of the constitution, which focus on the mechanism of presidential election and length of term in office.
Addressing the Brotherhood`s 88 MPs on Sunday, the group`s supreme leader Muhammad Mahdi Akef said: `This parliament is likely to amend the constitution, make the people the source of authority, [and] limit the president`s term in office to four years with a maximum of two consecutive terms.`
Akef also said the Muslim Brotherhood would work on expanding human rights, abolishing the emergency law imposed after the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, Mubarak`s predecessor, and combating corruption.
`It`s a heavy responsibility and you are a minority [in parliament] but your contribution will be significant. And do cooperate with your brothers in the National Front for Change because we are part of it,` Akef has told Brotherhood MPs.
`This is the parliament that will implement Mubarak`s suggestion of replacing the emergency law with a new one and limiting the president`s [constitutional] powers`
In addition to NDP and Brotherhood MPs, the new parliament offers a mixed bag of politicians.
Two leftists representing the Tagammu opposition party have won seats.
Four prominent journalists, including Mustafa Bakri of El-Osboa newspaper and Nasserist politician and editor of Al-Karama newspaper Hamdeen El-Sabahi, also won seats.
Only one Copt, Minister of Economy Yousef Boutrous Ghali, and four women were elected.
But this parliamentary combination is now more likely to clash over varying political agendas.
Rashwan believes the NDP is focused on Mubarak`s election platform, which promised political and constitutional reforms.
`This is the parliament that will implement Mubarak`s suggestion of replacing the emergency law with a new one and limiting the president`s [constitutional] powers,` he told Aljazeera.net.
The new parliament promises to be full of drama and excitement
Despite the convening of parliament on Saturday, it may be a long time before the dust of election controversy settles.
Elections in six of the country`s 222 electoral constituencies have been postponed by the government-appointed High Election Committee in response to court orders.
The committee ignored other court orders which declared results in more than a dozen other constituencies null and void. These court decisions, sceptics argue, could serve as pretext for the possibility of dissolving parliament altogether.
It is a scenario observers believe is likely if the opposition bloc consisting mainly of the Muslim Brotherhood becomes too troublesome for the ruling party.
`This is not a far-fetched scenario,` cautioned Rabie. But Akef dismisses such a notion.
`NDP barely managed to gain its two-thirds majority and they wouldn`t want to subject the party to that again.`
Either way, with the potential constitutional changes and the opposition stronger than ever, this parliament promises to be full of drama and excitement.
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