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Head of pro-Sisi coalition denies attempts to take control of Egypt's parliament

Saad al-Gamal, the head of the pro-government Support Egypt coalition, speaks to Al-Monitor about the most pressing issues facing parliament and responds to accusations of trying to take control of the legislature.

The Support Egypt coalition is a political bloc known for its total and unwavering support for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as unflinching defense of his policies. It entered the last parliamentary elections and won a landslide victory, capturing all 120 seats allotted to party lists. The coalition now holds 315 out of parliament’s 596 seats.

At the same time, numerous charges have been leveled against the coalition. Foremost among these is the charge that it is attempting to seize control of parliament and pass any law desired by the government, and that its internal organs of administration are codifying a dictatorship. Saad al-Gamal, the head of the coalition and chairman of the Arab Affairs Committee in parliament, categorically denied these charges in an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, his first since becoming head of the coalition on May 9.

In his remarks to Al-Monitor, Gamal expressed his view that all the charges being leveled at the coalition are completely baseless, and that their goal is to influence him and undermine the popular support that brought him to this station. He also said that the coalition has presented a number of proposed laws to parliament, and that these will be discussed in parliament’s second session — after, that is, it tackles the laws governing church construction, the National Election Coalition and the current administration. All the coalition’s proposed laws, he stressed, are in Egypt’s national interest and the interest of her citizens.

Gamal did not dismiss the possibility that terrorist elements were involved in the downing of the lost Egyptian airliner, but stressed the importance of waiting for the results of the French investigation and not rushing to judgment. In this way, he said, we will be able to learn the facts regarding this painful episode, track down the perpetrators and hold them to account, whomever they are.

On the subject of parliament’s slowness to take up discussion of the issue of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir and formally decide whether they will belong to Egypt or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Gamal said that the Arab Affairs Committee is now in a preparatory stage, gathering all the relevant documents. He stressed that parliament will reject the agreement if Egyptian ownership of the islands is conclusively established.

Concerning the Arab League’s performance in supporting Arab causes, defending Arab national security, Gamal said, “It is very unfortunate that the Arab League’s role has suffered a steep decline. It does not play the effective role that we would have hoped for.”

The text of the interview follows.

Al-Monitor:  When you took over as head of the Support Egypt coalition, it was the largest and most influential bloc in parliament. What are the most prominent challenges you face in the coming period?

Gamal:  The coalition is carrying many challenges on its shoulders. After it was officially inaugurated as the first parliamentary coalition in the Egyptian House of Representatives, the most important [challenge] is bringing together the country and cooperating with all political and partisan forces in order to achieve the national interest. Additionally, there are many proposed laws that the coalition is officially presenting for discussion in the coming, second parliamentary session. We hope to bring them into effect, since all of these proposed laws will advance the interests of ordinary citizens and [help them to] achieve their aspirations.

Al-Monitor:  What flaws has the coalition suffered from since it was established, particularly pertaining to its internal administration? Do you hope to put an end to them?

Gamal:  It’s very likely that the Support Egypt coalition, like other coalitions and blocs, will make mistakes. At the end of the day, this coalition speaks on behalf of a number of members who believe they are doing what’s in the country’s best interest. [Seeking out] the national interest — that alone is what brought them together. Of course there have been mistakes in administering the coalition, since it is very new, but with the passage of time, the coalition will transcend any flaw. Democracy is the slogan of the party in every decision that it makes. And the credit for this is due to the late Maj. Gen. Sameh Seif El Yazal, its former president, who founded this lofty national edifice, supported it and enabled it to see the light of day.

Al-Monitor:  How many members are there in Support Egypt?

Gamal:  The coalition’s numbers have reached 315, after a number of [new] representatives joined recently.

Al-Monitor:  There are clear charges being directed at the coalition of attempting to take over parliament. What’s your response?

Gamal:  That’s a biased statement and totally untrue. It has been repeated a great deal by forces that want the parliament to be weak.

Al-Monitor:  The coalition has been accused of adopting the same policy as the now disbanded National Democratic Party (NDP) — which was the ruling party under [former President Hosni] Mubarak — in defending the president and the government, no matter what their mistakes are. How do you respond?

Gamal:  Such statements are unjust and unfair to the coalition’s role. The coalition does not hold a monopoly on authority, and it does not aspire to take control of parliament. It has never once tried to pass legislation aimed at serving its own interests. If we are blessed with a majority within parliament, it does not mean that we are following the same practices as the NDP.

Al-Monitor:  Some have criticized the existence of a coalition that controls a majority, saying that the majority should belong to one party rather than a coalition, as happens in other countries around the world. What’s your take on this?

Gamal:  This coalition contains a large number of parties as well as a number of independents, and not solely independents as some claim. Moreover, when the parties come together to form a coalition, that is ultimately in the interest of the state. It’s a perfectly natural thing, and nothing to be ashamed of.

Al-Monitor:  Is there any truth to rumors of cracks inside the coalition between members concerning its working mechanism?

Gamal:  There are no cracks. There is complete consensus among the members. The resignation of some, which happened previously, was a purely individual affair.

Al-Monitor:  What are the mechanisms by which a parliamentarian can be punished if he or she fails to toe the coalition line?

Gamal:  There are a number of procedures that can be followed in accordance with the internal coalition guidelines that result in expelling [the disobedient member]. But the coalition administration is resolved to apply democracy and discussion in order to arrive at sound visions. The manner in which the parties and the coalition were governed before [the January 25 Revolution] is no longer present within the coalition.

Naturally, there are some disagreements in perspective, but what brings us together is what’s in the country’s best interest. We adopt that as our guideline within the coalition.

Al-Monitor:  There have been accusations that security agencies intervened in the elections of specific committees. What’s your comment?

Gamal:  That absolutely did not happen. These are just rumors being circulated by some people, unsupported by a single piece of evidence.

Al-Monitor:  As the chairman of the Arab Affairs Committee in parliament, could you say why parliament has been slow to take up discussion of the issue of Tiran and Sanafir up until now?

Gamal:  The truth is that parliament really has been slow to discuss this agreement, but what some don’t realize is that this sort of discussion takes time so that a decision can be reached. Right now we’re gathering all the relevant historical documents that delineate Egypt’s position on the two islands.

We will also hold meetings in the coming days with members of the Foreign Affairs, Defense, and National Security committees in order to hear their views and study the issue in all its respects. And soon the parliament's decision on this issue will be announced.

Al-Monitor:  Is it possible that parliament will reject the annexation of Tiran and Sanafir by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

Gamal:  Of course it is parliament’s right to reject [it], if Egypt’s rights to the islands are conclusively established. But if Saudi Arabia’s rights to impose its sovereignty are established, then we will have to say as much, since we are just as keen on the rights of our brother nations [as on our own].

Al-Monitor:  What are the main challenges and crises confronting the Arab world today?

Gamal:  The most dangerous threat to the Arab world is the brutal terrorism that has come to menace many Arab nations, whether in Syria, Libya, Iraq or elsewhere. It is an international plot whose goal is to turn members of the same [Arab] homeland against one another and to undermine their unity.

But what the West doesn’t understand is that this terrorism has become a threat to it as well. Now we see terrorism in France and America. And [if] the Western world does not come together with us, it will burn in the fires of terror.

Al-Monitor:  You recently called for the convening of an international counterterrorism summit. What are its goals?

 Gamal:  As I said, we on the Arab Affairs Committee seek cooperation with the entire world in confronting terrorism. For eliminating it is not the responsibility of Arab nations alone, but that of the entire world. The goal of the international summit is to call for an international agreement, under the auspices of the United Nations, whose responsibility will be combating terrorism and drying up its wellsprings. Any state that refuses to sign it will have revealed itself before the world as an incubator of terrorism.

Al-Monitor:  Do you believe that there is a pressing need for enacting new anti-terror legislation?

Gamal:  On the domestic level, we do not need any new laws. We have the Anti-Terrorism Law. Equipped with this law, we are capable of confronting and prosecuting terrorism with full force.

At the international level, however, Egypt has sought to amend the Arab Anti-Terrorism agreement in order to specify the obligations of every state and cooperate with them in the areas of tracking down and extraditing wanted terrorists.

Al-Monitor:  Is there coordination between the committee and the Arab League to resolve issues that threaten the Arab world?

Gamal:  No, but we are now preparing a research paper in which we will put forward proposals to develop working mechanisms within the Arab League with the goal of strengthening its role in such a way as to enable it to participate in resolving issues that threaten the Arab world. For we are in dire need of Arab unity and Arab cohesion to confront the dangers that threaten the Arab world as a whole.

Al-Monitor:  Do you believe that the Arab League is doing its part to support and defend Arab causes?

Gamal:  It is very unfortunate that the Arab League’s role has suffered a steep decline. It does not play the effective role that we would have hoped for. The Arab League gathers together many political desires, and political desires in one country differ from those in another. That’s to say nothing of the fact about differences between states when it comes to dealing with those issues that confront the Arab world. Moreover these differences are reflected in the content [of Arab League decisions]. We find that the Arab League plays an inactive role, contrary to what we would have hoped, and this ultimately is in the interest of Israel, which as ever seeks to fragment the Arabs in order to serve its own interests.

Al-Monitor:  How do you evaluate the crisis that has broken out between the Journalists Syndicate and the Ministry of the Interior?

Gamal:  It is extremely unfortunate that the crisis between the syndicate and the Interior Ministry has grown out of proportion. The dispute between them is basically about how to apply the law. Now the case is in the hands of the General Prosecutor, and in the Egyptian judiciary there is no authority above that of the law. We must respect its verdicts, whatever they are.

Al-Monitor:  Do you expect that terrorist elements are involved in the downing of the Egyptian plane that was arriving from Paris?

Gamal:  I extend my sincerest condolences to the families of the victims, on both the French and the Egyptian sides. I don’t rule out the possibility that terrorist elements are involved in this events, as all scenarios are still on the table. But we must wait for the results of the investigation, in cooperation with the French side, so that we can learn the real reasons behind this painful event. We should not get ahead of events.