Is parliament the best way for expat Egyptians to be involved in politics?

The new Egyptian parliament will have a set number of seats allocated for Egyptian expatriates for the first time since its establishment in 1866.

The parliamentary law allocates eight seats for Egyptians abroad within the electoral lists system. This move was made in light of Article 88 of the 2014 Constitution, which requires that the state “protects the interests of Egyptian expatriates, ensures their rights and freedoms and allows them to perform their public duties towards the state and society and to contribute to the development of the nation.”

The lists system is responsible for populating 120 seats out of the 568 that candidates will competing for in the upcoming elections. The country is divided into four electoral constituencies: Upper Egypt on one side, and Cairo, south and middle Delta on the other, each of which will fill 45 seats. West Delta and east Delta will fill 15 seats each.

The parliamentary law specifies that each electoral list must include representatives of Egyptian expatriates, with one seat out of each of the two 15 seat lists, and three seats out of the 45 seat lists allocated for Egyptians abroad. This means Egyptian expatriates will be represented by at least eight seats in the new parliament.

An Egyptian expatriate is defined in the law as someone “whose residency outside the Arab Republic of Egypt was made permanent through obtaining legal permission to live in a foreign country,” or as someone “who has lived abroad for no less than 10 years before opening the door to candidacy.”

When applying for candidacy, expatriate candidates have to provide official evidence proving their permanent residency abroad or proof of their residency in a foreign country for more than 10 years.

The Constitutional Court ruled in March of this year against banning dual nationals from running for the parliament as being unconstitutional. This has allowed many Egyptian expatriates to run for elections, especially since living abroad for 10 years often means acquiring another citizenship, although this is not the case in the Gulf countries.

Security apparatuses will subject dual national candidates to stricter security inspections, privately owned Al-Watan newspaper reported in September. The newspaper added that security apparatuses also recommended excluding elected dual nationals from sensitive parliamentary committees such as the national security committee.

The Administrative Court denied expatriates the right to run for individual seats, and the Supreme Administrative Court ratified the verdict by rejecting an appeal filed by lawyer Montaser al-Zayyat on behalf of an Egyptian expatriate in October.

In his appeal, Zayyat argued that the Constitution assigns Egyptian expatriates a quota similar to other special groups like women and Copts.

“In the exercise of political rights law, legislators allowed all positively discriminated groups the right to run for both lists and individual seats, except for expatriates, who can only run within lists,” Zayyat told state owned Al-Ahram newspaper. This, he said, is a breach of the concept of equality mandated by the Constitution.

Beyond the question of candidacy being restricted to lists, the parliamentary law also lacks details on the nature and mechanism of representation of these members within the parliament, leaving the decision of these details to the internal bylaws which will be set after the formation of the parliament.

Salah Abul Fadl, an Egyptian expat living in the UK, believes that there are more serious logistic issues plaguing the contribution of Egyptian expats in parliament. If they returned to Egypt to be able to actively participate in parliamentary sessions, they will subsequently annihilate their expatriate status, he believes. Hence, logistics will have to be amended to allow them to contribute from their countries of residence abroad.

Spokesperson for the High Elections Commission, Judge Omar Marwan, had previously pointed to the necessity of regular attendance of parliamentary sessions by expatriate MPs, adding that this requires constant travelling between their countries of residence and Egypt.

“Any country that finds out this person is currently a member of the Egyptian parliament will definitely make sure this process is easier,” Marwan said, without explaining whether the Egyptian government has made actual arrangements to such end with other countries.

Vice president of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, lawyer Ahmed Abdel Hafeez, believes that there was no problem before the new law, as expatriate Egyptians could previously run on lists or for individual seats as there was no legislation concerning Egyptians abroad.

During a workshop organized by Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies to discuss expatriate participation in the elections, Abdel Hafeez said that the problem was the philosophy of the law itself, and asserted that the section of the law related to expatriate contribution was not sufficiently discussed before its release.

Abul Fadl believes that the proposed method is illogical and harmful, as appropriate means to screen and choose suitable candidates are yet to be developed.

But for Abul Fadl, the issue of engagement of expatriate Egyptians with political life in their home country is much broader.

“In my opinion, any serious attempt to involve expatriates shouldn’t start with the parliament, but end with it. We need to start finding suitable fields for their contribution in the public sphere, to allow them to share their opinions, expertise and work, which will naturally lead to an organic screening process of talents. This will set a suitable atmosphere to pick those who deserve to be elected to the parliament or to even hold executive positions in the government,” he adds.

Mohamed Hamama 
Ibrahim Bassem 

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