When Member of Parliament Ahmed Tantawi presented a political reform initiative centered on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi leaving office by 2022 on November 3, Parliament was quick to take action against him.
Ninety-five members of the House of Representatives submitted a request on Tuesday to Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel Aal to refer Tantawi to the Ethics Committee saying his initiative undermines the Egyptian state and its institutions. Abdel Aal announced that he referred the request to Parliament’s bureau in preparation for taking the appropriate legal measures.
Last Sunday, Tantawi posted a video on YouTube in which he proposed a “reformist initiative” that calls for early presidential elections in 2022 in which Sisi would not run, rather than waiting until 2024, the end of the two-year extension to his current term granted by this year’s constitutional amendments.
Tantawi, a member of the 25-30 Alliance, an independent leftist parliamentary bloc, told Mada Masr that his initiative seeks to clear his conscience as an Egyptian citizen and member of parliament from what he feels is an imminent danger to the country in the president’s continued infringement upon Egypt’s authorities. He added that, in the eyes of Sisi’s supporters, his departure at the end of his original four-year term is the best way to guarantee political, economic and social reform in the country.
He explained that his initiative demands that the president uphold the promise he made not to stay in power for longer than eight years— a promise that Sisi repeated more than once — “because the people elected him for two presidential terms, each of which is four years, not six.”
Sisi was first elected in June 2014 and re-elected in May 2018 to a second four-year term. The constitutional amendments passed in April extend presidential term length to six years for a maximum of two terms but included a special amendment that retroactively allowed Sisi to extend his current term until 2024 and run for another six-year term.
“I submitted a formal request to the speaker in accordance with internal regulations and it is up to him to approve or reject it,” Tantawi said shortly before his referral to the Ethics Committee. In the video, Tantawi says that in his request to Abdel Aal, he proposed the formation of 12 parliamentary committees that aim to generate a national dialogue about the political, economic and social problems facing the country.
Tantawi told Mada Masr that he believes that his personal initiative is a “reasonable way out of the real crisis Egypt is living through, which authorities should pay attention to before it is too late.”
He warned against authorities resorting to violence toward any political initiative aiming to absorb public outrage, “Dealing violently with any political initiative will be a message to the people not to talk about any political path again.” Tantawi noted that the president’s logic in his last speech, that — “whoever is upset can go take a hike” — is unacceptable and added: “I am not afraid of prison. I am demanding my constitutional and legal rights. And in a country that calls itself a nation of laws, I should not be subjected to persecution by being imprisoned or having those close to me imprisoned without cause.”
Parliament responded to Tantawi’s initiative on Tuesday.
During the plenary session, MP Mahmoud Badr said that Tantawi’s initiative represents an outright violation of the constitution, tramples on the will of the millions of Egyptians who voted for the constitutional amendments and for Sisi, and tramples on Egypt’s democracy.
He was interrupted by Abdel Aal, who said: “I do not have any initiatives. Whoever wants to announce should do so in the newspapers. I do not have initiatives. I do not pay attention to this sort of talk”.
Abdel Aal added: “Citizens voted in front of the entire world, and organizations, associations and foreign officials observed the referendum [on the Constitutional Amendments]. Whoever questions their legitimacy or negatively addresses the nation and its leadership has no place in Egypt in general, they should go to another country. We are charged with protecting this nation and its people. There are red lines, including the nation, political leadership and Egypt’s military and police Insulting them is not permitted.”
Dismissing an MP requires the approval of two-thirds of the House in circumstances specified in the constitution, the law and regulations. Representatives who are suspended from participation in parliamentary activities are denied remuneration throughout the duration of the penalty.
Article 30 of Parliamentary Regulations states that the Bureau decides to refer members to the Ethics Committee if it deems it appropriate, after hearing the member’s testimony.
Outside of Parliament, the Civil Democratic Movement welcomed Tantawi’s initiative and said in a statement released on Monday that Tantawi’s initiative is consistent with the 10-point list of political demands the movement released following its meeting on October 20.
In the statement, the Civil Democratic Movement — a coalition of several parties including the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Popular Socialist Alliance Party, Bread and Freedom Party, Karama Party and others — praised “the initiative’s direction for its emphasis on reviewing all amendments to the constitution which have left it flawed and unconstitutional legislation that has passed.” The statement referenced the centrality of the “principle of power rotation … the independence of the judiciary and oversight bodies, freedom of the media and of party, union and civil activities.”
The statement references the challenges faced by the country in the absence of reformist initiatives and real societal dialogue, “at the forefront of which is the debt crisis and the specter of poverty knocking on the doors of most Egyptians.”
On October 18, Tantawi delivered an open letter to Sisi through another YouTube video, where criticized the president’s comments blaming the January 25 revolution for the failure of negotiations surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, saying that “the revolution did not rule.” He also demanded that Sisi meet political opponents and listen to their opinions on the country’s present and future.
Tantawi’s proposal and counter-measures unfolded in the wake of the ongoing crackdown on opposition politicians and human rights defenders, especially after the scattered anti-government that protests took place on September 20 that led to a sweeping security crackdown in which over 4,000 people have been arrested, according to rights groups.