What we’re tracking on Sunday, 23 August 2020
Welcome back, ladies and gents, from what we hope was a relaxing three-day weekend. As summer crawls to a close, you have about 8 days and 18 hours left until the start of September — and with it the approach of fall and the kickoff to 2021 budget season at most Egyptian companies.
We have a packed issue for you this morning, starting with the announcement of the results of the Senate election, which saw 174 new representatives being elected. The Mostaqbal Watan coalition cleaned out in the first round, winning the majority of the party list seats. A run-off on 8-9 September and presidentially-appointed members will fill out the rest of the 300-member body. This is the first class of senators to be elected to the newly reconstituted upper house of parliament. We have more in this morning’s Speed Round, below.
The rest of the news cycle was dominated by covid-19 following last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, as well as diplomatic and national security news on GERD and Libya, which we discuss in greater detail in this morning’s Speed Round and Diplomacy + Foreign Trade sections.
The House of Representatives next-to-last legislative session before this fall’s elections may or may not wrap up tomorrow — depending on whether MPs manage to zip through everything on their docket today and tomorrow, Youm7 quotes House Secretary-General Mahmoud Fawzy as saying. Following a long-postponed summer recess, the current set of MPs could then reconvene in October for one last kick at the can before fall elections.
On this week’s agenda: The House still needs to give its final say on 13 laws, review committee reports on five other bills, and rubber stamp 12 recent presidential decrees before our elected representatives can flee to the beach. Among the most important items on the agenda:
- A bill to set up an authority to oversee and monitor waste management in Egypt and encourage investment in waste management;
- Amendments to the Microfinance Act that would introduce new capital requirements for SME lenders, and bring them within the scope of the legislation.
- A committee report on the draft Unified Tax Act, which would create a single tax platform through which to file income tax, VAT, stamp tax, and real estate tax returns;
- A law to regulate clinical research and protect human subjects (see our coverage here);
- A proposed law to restructure the Religious Endowments Authority;
- A presidential decree to approve an agreement signed with France’s Semmaris and the French Development Agency (AFD) to improve the efficiency of Egypt’s wholesale markets; and
- A presidential decree to approve a USD 500 mn extension to a World Bank facility to improve access to low-income housing.
You can expect to go to the polls to elect a new lower house of parliament sometime in October or November. Reports had previously penciled in October, but we could now see a vote sometime in October or November, it seems (watch, runtime: 0:59). Well-connected MP Mostafa Bakry suggested that prospective candidates will be able to submit their paperwork as of 20 September, with the elections likely to take place on 25 October. The elections could be split into two phases, with the first in November and the second in December, Masrawy reports, citing what it said are sources in the know. Speaker Ali Abdel Aal had previously said a sixth and final legislative cycle that will begin in October 2020 and wrap up in January 2021 is needed to bridge the gap between the end of the current session and the end of the current MPs’ five-year term.
Egypt-Greece maritime boundaries accord to be ratified in Greece this week: Greece’s parliament is planning on ratifying an accord signed with Egypt earlier this month defining maritime border zones in the East Mediterranean Sea this Wednesday, 26 August. The move to formally determine maritime zones marks a step towards international recognition of Egypt’s jurisdiction in exclusively exploring and extracting gas from the East Mediterranean region. Turkey is, needless to say, not happy.
PSA- Our next regularly scheduled holiday is Armed Forces Day, more than a month away. We’ll be observing the holiday on Thursday, 8 October (not Tuesday, 6 October, the date on which it falls) thanks to cabinet’s new policy of making Thursdays substitute for midweek holidays.
The Health Ministry reported 89 new covid-19 infections yesterday. Egypt has now disclosed a total of 97,237 confirmed cases of covid-19. The ministry also reported 12 new deaths last night, bringing the country’s total death toll to 5,243. We now have a total of 65,118 confirmed cases that have fully recovered.
That’s the lowest single-day case count since 10 April, but the government continues to warn citizens to be on their best behavior lest they trigger a second wave of infections this fall. A cabinet statement notes that 320 public hospitals and 77 specialist facilities are equipped to handle covid-19 patients, while some 53 laboratories are handling testing for covid patients.
All incoming travelers (including Egyptians) will now be required to show a negative PCR test before entering Egypt starting from 1 September, according to a cabinet statement. This ratchets up protocols that came into effect last week requiring foreign tourists to provide a negative test for the virus that causes covid-19 taken within 72 hours of flying to Egypt. Children below the age of six are exempt.
As for school reopenings, the health and education ministries have drafted a plan to curb the spread of infection on school campuses. Student cases will be monitored as they are detected and logged on a digitized system overseen by both ministries that will allow for greater efficiency in detection and treatment. We have yet to see details on what this will mean for the upcoming academic year.
Friday prayers at “major” mosques will resume on 28 August with health and safety precautions stipulated by the Endowments Ministry in place, according to a cabinet statement. These measures include worshippers wearing masks and bringing their own prayer mats, and limiting sermons to 10 minutes. A ban on funerals and marriage ceremonies remains in place.
Egyptian scientists are in the third stage of clinical trials on a homegrown covid-19 vaccine and the Health Ministry is simultaneously looking to get its hands on an internationally developed vaccine as soon as possible, Health Minister Hala Zayed said last week, according to a cabinet statement. It appears one of the international sources for a vaccine will be Moscow, which is looking at potentially manufacturing its Sputnik V vaccine here in Egypt, Russia’s ambassador to Egypt Georgy Borisenko told the local press. The Russian vaccine has been questioned by medical experts for being rushed out the door after less than two months of clinical testing. Some 2k volunteers in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines are now due to take the vaccine in a multinational trial.
All Saudi bureaucrats and public sector employees are going back to work next Sunday, after authorities only allowed government offices and companies to operate at 75% capacity, Saudi Human Resources and Social Development Minister Ahmad Alrajhi said.
Joe Biden has accepted the Democrats’ nomination to take on King Cheeto, calling Thursday night for Americans to join a “battle for the soul of the nation.” Biden’s well-received speed (watch, runtime: 24:48) promised, in stark contrast to his opponent to, “draw on the best of us” to “overcome this season of darkness.” You can read the transcript of his remarks in full here or catch coverage in the Washington Post and the New York Times.
The Republicans’ convention gets underway tomorrow — and they’ve hired two Apprentice producers to make it “must-see TV.” The gathering will apparently include Trump speaking — Every. Bloody. Night. More in the New York Times and Politico.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Israel tomorrow and will visit the UAE on Tuesday to discuss the two countries’ agreement to establish diplomatic relations, Reuters reports, citing informed sources. Pompeo is also set to bring up China and Iran and the “security challenges” they pose to the region, the sources said.