More women than ever join Egypt’s new parliament

Hifny El Gibaly is seen as a moderate in a new chamber, which has increased diversity among deputies

Egypt's members of parliament attend a session in Cairo on April 16, 2019. - Egypt's parliament, packed with loyalists of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, began today a session to vote on constitutional changes that could keep the former military chief in power until 2030. The proposed amendments were initially introduced in February by a parliamentary bloc supportive of Sisi and updated this week after several rounds of debates. (Photo by - / AFP)
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In a historic first, 25 per cent of the MPs in Egypt's newly elected parliament are women, a development secured by a provision added to the constitution as part of amendments introduced in 2019 and ratified in a referendum.

The new House of Representatives convened on Tuesday.

The new parliament also surprised observers by choosing a former head of the country's Supreme Constitutional Court as its Speaker, replacing strong government supporter Ali Abdel Aal.

In a vote late on Tuesday during the inaugural session of the 596-seat house, Hifny El Gibaly won 508 votes.

But Mr Abdel Aal did not run for the Speaker's job. He sat in the VIP lounge before briefly taking his seat in the chamber, and left immediately after he was sworn in as a deputy.

Mr Abdel Aal, a constitutional expert, was an ardent supporter of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi throughout his five-year tenure as Speaker, ensuring the swift passage of scores of draft laws tabled by the Cabinet and showing little tolerance for criticism of government policies.

Addressing the legislators after the swearing-in, Mr El Gibaly urged MPs to show moderation.

“I am sure you realise that the effectiveness of your oversight hinges on being balanced,” he said. “It should not be too lenient, be extremist or tend towards exaggeration or understatement.”

The legislature, whose official name is the House of Deputies, was elected in a staggered vote late last year. Mirroring the make-up of its forerunner, the chamber is dominated by supporters of Mr El Sisi and has a tiny minority of opposition legislators.

Of the 596 deputies, Mr El Sisi appointed 28, who include three retired football stars, Hossam Ghali, Hazem Imam and Mohammed Omar, and members of the country’s Christian minority.

A key amendment was to allow the president to run for office when his present six-year term ends in 2024.

Mr El Sisi, a former army general, was first elected in 2014, a year after he led the military's removal of Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist president, amid a wave of street protests against his divisive, one-year rule.