Hani al-Gamal – Cairo
The Egyptian Senate (the upper chamber of the Egyptian parliament) has convened for the first time since 2013. The Senate was cancelled in 2014, but was reinstituted by a package of constitutional amendments that were approved in 2019. The inaugural session of the Senate witnessed the election of its speaker and his two deputies.
Justice Abdel Wahab Abdel Razik, the former head of the Egyptian Higher Constitutional Court, was nominated as the Senate Speaker. Prominent lawyer Bahaa Abu Shuqa and leading pediatrician Fibbi Fawzi were nominated as deputy speakers.
The Senate was formed, for the first time, in 1824, by the Albanian Ottoman ruler Mohammad Ali Pasha. Its internal law was formulated a year later to specify its mandate which was mainly to offer political and economic counseling to the state.
In 1866, then-ruler Khedive Ismail Pasha ordered the formation of the first representative parliament in Egypt’s history, namely the Deputies Consultative Council. The 1923 constitution created two chambers of the Egyptian parliament for the first time, namely the House of Deputies and the Senate.
Membership in the Senate lasts for five years. It is made up of 300 members, including 200 who are elected by voters and 100 who are appointed by the Egyptian president. The Election Law specifies 10% of the Senate seats must go to women.
The Senate is responsible for considering legislation that boosts democracy, social peace and rights and freedoms. It debates potential constitutional amendments, economic and social development plans, and reconciliation and coalition treaties. It also considers bills referred by the president or the House of Deputies (the lower chamber of parliament). Ordinary people, observers said, have realised the importance of this second chamber of parliament.
“This was manifest in the high voter turnout during the 2019 referendum on the constitutional amendments that reinstituted the Senate”, said Tarek al-Tohami, a journalist who is also a member of the Senate. He said the Senate is forming a broad national front that reflects the preferences of the voters who cast their votes in its elections a few weeks ago. Tohami said the Senate would shoulder the responsibility of formulating laws side by side with the House of Deputies. “It will push for a better performance by state institutions,” Tohami said of the Senate.
He noted that Egypt is still in the transition towards democracy. This makes it necessary for the state to benefit from all the cultural and intellectual capacities at its disposal in order to more readily counter the challenges it is facing.
The nomination of a woman for the position of Senate deputy speaker is a real breakthrough, shedding light on ongoing efforts by Egyptian institutions to empower the nation’s women. Around 99 members voted for Fawzi. She is the first woman and the first Christian to be nominated for this position. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi appointed 100 members of the Senate, including 20 women. Nominating a woman to be the deputy speaker of the Senate is a new victory for the nation’s women, observers said.
“It proves once more than women are qualified to be in the highest positions in this country”, said Ahlam Hanafi, a member of the National Council for Women, the state-run agency defending the rights of women.
She said this nomination was the culmination of a long struggle among Egypt’s women. Hanafi praised the Egyptian president for paving the road for empowering the nation’s women. “Sisi’s persistent support gave women a strong motivation to keep making progress in all fields”, she said.