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Sunday, 2 October 2022

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair

The House of Representatives is back in session — here’s what you can expect. After breaking for a three-month summer recess (which included a brief, unscheduled return to sign off on the last cabinet shuffle in August), the House of Representatives kicked off the third legislative season of its five-year term yesterday. Yesterday and today see MPs in procedural sessions before they get down to business tomorrow on a host of long-delayed bills and amendments.

We have a full rundown on bills now before them (below), but we’d also like to know: Will MPs give Hassan Abdalla a full term? The former AAIB boss did us all a solid when he agreed to serve as governor of the central bank after his predecessor stepped down. Hassan is currently acting governor, because the House needs to sign off on any appointment to a full, four-year term.

BUSINESS + FINANCE

UNIFIED INS. ACT- The 217-article draft bill has been more than four years in the making and would give the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) broad new powers to regulate the sector, make ins. compulsory for SMEs and freelancers, and set up new economic courts to mediate disputes.

Status: The Senate approved the bill in April and the House of Representatives is expected to give its final vote sometime this legislative session.

COMPETITION ACT- Amendments to the existing law, which have been up in the air since last year, would among other things give the Egyptian Competition Authority (ECA) more power to regulate M&A.

Status: Parliament discussed the amendments extensively with members of the business and legal communities during the last legislative session, but failed to reach common ground on a handful of contentious articles. Tap or click here for our full rundown of the business community’s concerns about the proposed changes to how M&A are regulated.

LABOR ACT- The law would, if enacted, extend both maternity leave and notice periods, cap working hours, and change minimum raise increments. If passed, it would replace the Labor Act of 2003. Tap or click here for our explainer on what the law would mean for your business.

Status: The Senate had approved the bill back in February, after which it referred it back to the House for a final vote. Parliament kicked the final vote on the legislation to the this new legislative session.

ALSO IN THE PIPELINE- A government-drafted bill that would establish a council for vehicle manufacturing and a fund to manage the financing of a local electric vehicle assembly industry. This is likely part of government plans to develop the local automotive industry with a focus on EVs, which saw it unveil the outline of its automotive strategy earlier this year.

TAXATION

INCOME TAX ACT- The Finance Ministry had drafted several amendments to the Income Tax Act, including raising the ceiling for income tax exemptions to EGP 15k per year from a previous EGP 9k. Raising the ceiling was part of the wide-ranging EGP 130 bn stimulus package rolled out in tandem with the Central Bank of Egypt’s surprise decision to raise interest rates and allow the EGP to slip against the greenback this March. The tax treatment of investment funds is also part of the act.

Status: The amendments were referred to the House of Representatives after the Madbouly cabinet approved them in April.

DEVELOPMENT + INFRASTRUCTURE

UNIFIED BUILDING CODE- Fresh amendments to the Unified Building Code — which has already been amended multiple times since it was passed in March 2020 — are designed to crack down on unlicensed construction. The new amendments would widen the scope for property owners in violation of the building code to pay “reconciliation fees” to the government to legalize their buildings — as long as the buildings are not a risk to the public.

Status: Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly in May discussed the new amendments with other senior officials. The amendments were shipped to the House after they were finalized at cabinet level.

ENVIRONMENT ACT- The government drafted amendments to the 1994 Environment Act, which it passed along to the House of Representatives right before it adjourned for summer recess in July. The proposed amendments would, if passed, give the Environmental Affairs Authority new powers.

Status: These amendments are still in the early days of their legislative life cycle, but could be fast-tracked ahead of COP27.

SOCIAL + POLITICAL

LOCAL ADMINISTRATION ACT- The long-stalled act — which has been facing delays since at least 2016 — aims to decentralize local councils and organize district elections. Government-appointed officials have been running local affairs since a court dissolved municipal councils in 2011, which is when the last municipal elections were held.

Status: Parliament was holding public consultations on the act way back in February 2020, after the House’s Support Egypt coalition rejected the draft as it stood in December 2019. It appears the bill fell by the wayside with the onset of the pandemic, but is expected to gain fresh importance since it will be part of the agenda of the upcoming national dialogue.

CHILD MARRIAGE BAN- The first legislation of its kind would prohibit marriage of anyone under the age of 18 and require marriage officiants to notify prosecutors of any common-law marriage — also known in Arabic as orfi marriage — that involves a child. Those who marry or are involved in the marriage of a child under 18 will face at least one year in jail and a fine of EGP 50k-200k. Family courts could remove guardianship of children in cases where family members are convicted.

Status: Cabinet approved the draft bill in April, after which it was shipped to the House of Representatives for discussion. Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly has previously said he wants to see the bill get top priority in the House during the 2022-2023 session.

SCHOOL ADMISSION INTERVIEW BAN- A bill drafted by Rep. Fatma Selim aims to outlaw admissions interviews at private and international schools. These interviews, Selim has argued, discriminate against students from lower-income families. If passed, the bill would subject schools that reject incoming students on the grounds of religion, social class, gender, or race to an EGP 2 mn fine and a five-year prison sentence.

PERSONAL STATUS ACT-: The law regulates issues of marriage, divorce, child custody, guardianship, alimony, polygamy, inheritance and other family-related matters largely derived from Sharia. The draft amendments would grant emergency alimony to divorced women and their children, outlaw child marriage, impose penalties on men who remarry without informing their first wife, and regulate the “marriage list” — colloquially known as the Qaema — in which the husband acknowledges that he is liable to return household items his wife purchased in the event of divorce.

Status: President Abdel Fattah El Sisi in May urged the government, lawmakers and Al Azhar to draft balanced and fair legislation as soon as possible — and later ordered a committee be set up to draft a new version. Controversial amendments to a previous bill, which critics argued would curb women’s rights and legal protections, were shelved by the House last year after backlash.

WATCH THIS SPACE- The national dialogue could also bring up a handful of political bills, including potential amendments to the 1956 law on exercising political rights, the 2014 law on House of Representatives elections, and the Political Parties Act of 1977.

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