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‘External pressure’ on Parliament prevents removal of convicted MPs, blocks implementation of corruption verdicts

Despite court rulings that should put three MPs on the path to having their memberships revoked, Parliament’s leadership has largely dragged its feet in carrying out the process without providing much of an explanation.

The court rulings handed to MPs Ahmed Mortada Mansour, Khaled Bishr and Sahar al-Hawary span the last three years, with the first coming in 2016 against Mansour — the son of notorious lawyer and head of the Zamalek Sports Club Mortada Mansour — for electoral violations. Bishr was last handed a verdict in 2016 for writing bad checks, while Hawary was convicted of bankruptcy fraud in order to evade paying over LE238 million in debt. She has been imprisoned since April 2017 after filing a request to lift her own parliamentary immunity so she could defend herself in court.

The convictions handed to Bishr and and Hawary represent a breach in confidence and stature that should automatically trigger a vote in Parliament on their membership status, according to Article 110 of the Constitution.  If two-thirds of Parliament vote in favor of the measure, the two MPs would see their seat in the legislature revoked.

It is a different case with Mansour. According to Article 107 of the Constitution, if an MP’s membership is deemed invalid by a court verdict, Parliament must automatically nullify the membership, from the date on which the verdict is reported to the house. Accordingly, Amr al-Shobaky, who was the runner up in the 2015 parliamentary election, should assume Mansour’s seat for the Dokki and Agouza district.

However, none of these procedures has been implemented, and Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal has intervened at several points to delay the proceedings for Hawary and Bishr — most recently, at the end of February, when he sent two recommendation reports back to the Legislative Committee on the same day on which a General Assembly vote was scheduled to determine the status of their memberships.

The rationale for the delay Abdel Aal gave on February 23, the day the hearing was scheduled, centered on the need for “calm thinking” and “careful consideration” of the implications of the decision to revoke Bishr and Hawary’s memberships. The speaker gave the committee 20 days to revise the report in order to find an alternative voting method to a roll-call vote or the automatic revocation of their memberships.

However, parliamentary sources familiar with the proceedings state that external pressure is the cause of the many delays to revoke the memberships of the MPs, both of whom are influential figures in the political scene. And, in Bishr’s case in particular, the constant delays have allowed him to financially profit from his parliamentary immunity.

Abdel Aal received several phone calls from security forces regarding the membership status of the two MPs ahead of the February 23 General Assembly, according to a member of the Future of a Nation Party who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity.

The source tells Mada Masr that these phone calls are the reason for Abdel Aal’s “deliberate stalling of the process,” with the security forces directly requesting that the speaker refrain from revoking the membership of Bishr, who is a party leader in the Sharqiya governorate, in order to maintain the reputation of the party and protect a the main financial backer of the party’s activities in Cairo and Sharqiya.

The Legislative Committee’s report indicated that Bishr had obtained loans from The United Bank of Egypt and wrote bad checks worth LE33,019,760 as collateral. The bank then filed a lawsuit, resulting in five verdicts — each with prison sentences ranging from two to three years — issued by the Zagazig Misdemeanor Court from November 2013 to 2016 and one 6-month prison sentence issued by the Dokki Misdemeanor Court in November 2015.

None of the sentences were implemented, however, due to Bishr’s parliamentary immunity, which Parliament refused to lift in 2016 in response to a request submitted by the United Bank.

For Afifi Kamel, a member of the Legislative Committee, Abdel Aal alone is responsible for delaying the execution of these judicial verdicts, a move that stands in contrast to decisions to strip Tawfik Okasha and Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat of their memberships, neither of whom had been convicted by a court.

According to the report, Central Bank of Egypt Governor Tarek Amer wrote a letter to Abdel Aal, asking him to “urge” Bishr to swiftly repay the debt owed to The United Bank of Egypt, as the central bank contributes 99.9 percent of the bank’s capital. In the letter, Amer included included a bank statement from Bishr dated to January 18, 2017, which put his debt at LE44.4 million.

The committee’s report urged Parliament to revoke Bishr’s membership, arguing that he had exploited the immunity it grants him to evade prison.

Kamel tells Mada Masr that his committee has not yet determined how it will respond to the Abdel Aal’s request to reexamine the voting mechanism concerning Bishr and Hawary’s membership status.

According to Kamel, the committee has already addressed the methods by which voting should proceed in accordance with the Constitution in reports submitted on April 11 and June 3, 2018. Kamel says that the voting mechanism does not represent a controversy that requires the “deep and calm thinking” that Abdel Aal has called for.

Regarding Hawary, Kamel says that the verdict issued against her not only should see her stripped of her parliamentary seat but also prohibit her from running in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

In March 2017, the Legislative Committee approved requests to lift Hawary’s immunity submitted by both the Public Prosecutor and Hawary herself. This led to her imprisonment on the same day on which the Alexandria Criminal Economic Court sentenced her to five years in prison for committing fraud on April 23, 2017. As a result, the Legislative Committee recommended in a report last April that Parliament members should vote to revoke Hawary’s membership.

There have been two instances in which MPs have been removed from Parliament.

On March 2, 2016, the Parliament speaker announced the approval of a two-thirds majority of members, who were called by name, to revoke the membership of Okasha five days after he invited the Israeli ambassador to his home.

Sadat was expelled from Parliament after the two-third majority to approve the move was secured on April 27, 2017. This came only one month after Sadat questioned Abdel Aal regarding the Parliament’s budget for fiscal year 2015/2016. Sadat’s questions centered on the LE18 million spent on purchasing three cars for the speaker and his two deputies. Parliament announced at the time that Sadat had committed three violations: distorting the image of the house, leaking the NGO draft law to foreign organizations, and forging Parliament members signatures on draft laws that he submitted.

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