A New Hope or Return of the Old Guard: Notes on the New Egyptian Parliament

Contrary to popular Belief, Egypt has long historical parliamentary traditions which date back to the 19th century. The first Egyptian representative parliament was assembled in 1866 that was preceded by a High Council during Egypt’s rule by Mohamed Ali Pasha. The High Council which was incepted 1823 was partially elected and only had 48 members represented that the seed for the first Egyptian parliament of 1866. The old parliamentary traditions had been transmitted throughout 32 parliaments since 1866. Nevertheless, the Egyptian consecutive parliaments had never guaranteed a fully functional democratic institutions or society in Egypt. One of the reasons is that there all the parliaments in Egypt’s history were always subject to dissolving and pressures from the executive branch of the government as well their inability to gain full independence as a legislative branch.

The new Egyptian parliament of 2016 represents a colossal shift towards a dawn of a rejuvenated democracy in Egypt. Nevertheless, the sense of déjà vu of yesteryears parliaments is still lurking on the atmosphere of the newly elected parliament with its 596 seats representing the most diverse selection of any Egyptian parliament in its 150 year old history.

In the eyes of a major sector of the Egyptian nation the January 25th revolution brought nothing but troubles to the Egyptian state, economy and society. The new parliament representative are a reflection to that major sector whose some belief that January 25th was merely a conspiracy or at the best possible explanation brought nothing but misery. Nevertheless these members have to adhere to the fact that without that revolution they won’t be in that very parliament themselves during the old regime era.

Lackluster performance by the Speaker of the House:

During the inauguration of the new parliament by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, The newly elected House Speaker Ali Abdel Aal have felt out of place and displayed a weak performance. The house speaker seemed to have forgotten that under the new constitution that his authorities and powers almost match the same as the president. Abdel Aal  was courting President Al Sisi with words that included a lot of exaggeration and hypocrisy about the President achievements. Despite the fact that to most Egyptians, Al Sisi is an Egyptian hero who saved the nation from a dark fate on the hands of the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, the scene seemed to  a reminiscent  of a Stalinist Soviet Union Duma rather than a cleanly newly elected democratic Egyptian parliament.

The speech delivered by the House Speaker tainted the overall atmosphere and joy of restoring the powers of the parliament once again after the January 25th 2011 and June30th 2013 revolutions. The speech he delivered before the president was filled with clichéd tired old rhetoric that even the President seemed unsettled with along with most of the members of the parliament. President Al Sisi heroic stand against Islamists in June30th is unforgettable and will be hailed in the annals of Egyptian history and therefore shall never be forgotten by the majority of Egyptians who voted for him in 2014 in a landslide victory to be their president. As old habits die hard, some may find it plausible to shower the president with words praise during a is speech and such is the case of the House Speaker.

Dr. Ali Abdel Aal is a renowned professor of Constitutional Law and current elected Speaker of the House of Representative. Unfortunately, Dr. Abdel Aal has acted as if he is headmaster of a primary school visited by the president and not the Speaker of the House who is supposed to be head to head with the president. According to the Egyptian constitution, should the president of the republic be incapacitated or unable to perform his presidential duties due to illness or death, the House Speaker is the one to replace him for 40 days in case the unavailability of vice president.  After the 40 days pass a new national elections takes place to elect a new president.  Aside from the above mentioned controversial speech Dr. Abdel Aal performance as the Speaker of the House is characterized by nervousness that is shown during his conversations with other members. It maybe understandable that that the new position is brought a lot of burdens to the 67 year old Professor and hopefully through time and practice his uptight stance will disappear.

On the other hand,  there seems to be a good number of Egyptian decision makers in the higher echelons that are still under the impression that the old ways are always the best. That old guard believes that the old ways during Mubarak era had given the country a 30-year stability, which is highly needed in Egypt nowadays. Also, they believe that it is a high priority to stabilize to pacify both the political and social turmoil following Jan 25th and June 30th revolutions. The fallacy of that belief is staggering because these decision makers in the Egyptian political kitchen resemble someone who have seen the first part of a good gangster movie like Scarface where the protagonist is rolling in money and good life while neglecting to watch its bloody ending. The case is similar here because the 30 year old Mubarak policies though have provided a relative during his long reign but have corroded Egypt’s potential as an economic superpower and also led to an inevitable revolt that witnessed the rise of the dreaded Islamists as the substitute. Wasn’t it for the second revolt of Egyptians in June30th, Egypt would have been the new Iran in the Middle East with a terrorist group “Muslim Brotherhood” leading it.

Accordingly, the Speaker of the House of representatives along with all other elected members are urged to realize that Egypt has moved into a new era socially and politically. Older practices of hypocrisy towards the President or the powers that be have no place in a modern democratic society.

New Hope:

The great diversity of the new parliament is unparalleled in Egyptian Parliamentary history with over 120 members under 40 years old and 89 women representing the highest women members percentage in Egypt’s 150 years Parliamentary history. Not just the numbers are diversified but the parliament holds some of Egypt’s finest minds and professionals that could represent a shift towards more progress driven performance by the parliament in the upcoming years.

For the first time since 1952, there is no political party representing the president in the parliament.   The parliament is comprised of a mix of over 29 different political parties and independents. This positive trait bears certain advantages and disadvantages. The obvious disadvantages that it will take significant efforts to acquire the votes of most parties and independents for any newly proposed laws in the upcoming 5 years which may stifle certain economic and social reforms needed for the nation. On the other hand, this will ensure that the current cabinet and any upcoming cabinet will seek the approval and consent of most members for its program and performance thus at least theoretically creating a pressure on ministers of the cabinet to excel in their performance.

The mix of 29 parties along with the independent members has created a unique parliament that can be unprecedented in Egypt’s long parliamentary history. Alas, this perk may find itself under threat as a constant attempts to unify most of the parliament under one banner are taking place under the titled “Support Egypt Coalition” . The attempt was labeled as notorious by its detractors who find it an attempt to replicate the infamous National Democratic Party (NDP) during former President Mubarak era and or the single party system labeled The Socialist Alliance under President Nasser’s Rule. The nightmare scenarios that both these systems have generated in Egypt and their drastic and disastrous consequences on the Egyptian political spectrum have led to the wild defiance against the formation of a new similar alliance or party under any pretext.

The supporters of the new coalition claim that it was formed to serve the public interest and the highest national security ones by forming a front to support the President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi decisions along with forming a Unified front against the rise of Islamist powers. The good and intentions cannot be denied in parts of the coalition supporters claim since Egypt has gone through a turbulent political phase for about 5 years and a glimpse of political stability may benefit the nation. Nevertheless, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The coalition led by former Military General the late Sameh Seif Al Yazal may destroy what can be perceived as one of the best features of Egypt new parliament. By pressing to shift votes within the parliament to support one decree or oppose another may not be for the nation’s best interest as the coalition claims.

The unprecedented diversity of the current parliament is a true reflection of the Egyptian society position and opinions on most political issues. Accordingly, forming a coalition that claims to maintain the National interests and security and facilitate the work of the president may sound plausible but in fact it is a double blow to both the voters and other non-coalition members:

  • the Egyptian voters selected these members based on their presented resumes and political affiliations and the “Support Egypt” coalition was not presented to the public in order that they would vote for them based on this notion or not hence it  represents a backstab to those voters’ choices.
  • The name and purpose of the “Support Egypt” coalition and its defiance to other members would entail that the rest of the members of the parliament who didn’t join the coalition are not supportive to Egypt’s highest interests which is a fallacy. After none of the members cannot be perceived as more patriotic or keener on Egypt’s national interests than the other members of the parliament or keener on
  • The formation of the coalition and trying to maintain it and defend it has caused a considerable less of precious time and efforts that were better invested to discuss and propose practical solutions to Egypt’s escalating pending problems. Former coalition or powerhouses within the parliament renders the parliament as a replica of yesteryears parliaments when the parliament served nothing more than a legal notary to legalize the president’s wishes and proposed laws.

Forming coalitions between parties is a known practice for any parliament but the method introduced by the Support Egypt coalition has created a sense of old monopolizing practices being recycled in the form of a new coalition since there is no majority party or political force represented in the 2015 Egyptian parliament.

It should be more advisable for the parliament members to focus on pending economic and social issues that are crucial to tackle more than the obsolete roman politics of monopolizing the parliament.

Controversies:

  • During the swearing in of the parliament, controversies arose with one of the members refusing to swear the oath because he doesn’t believe in the existence of January 25th Mortada Mansour the controversial lawyer has broken the traditions and refuses to swear the official oath claiming that the 25th of January revolution is nothing more than a “Conspiracy” against Egypt. Surprisingly enough the parliament body or speaker didn’t react towards this massive violation of the constitution and ethics. The member was left to function properly in a clear violation of the constitution and laws which representative Mansour was elected upon.
  • A second controversy occurred when the members have voted controversial media anchor and parliament member Tawfik Okasha out of the parliament. The reason was cited because Okasha made contacts and initiated negotiation with the Israeli ambassador in Egypt concerning the pending issues with Ethiopia which is building a new massive dam on the Nile River that is perceived by Egyptian authorities as dangerous of the flow of the Nile and the amount of water Egypt holds from the river. Okasha believing in his conspiracy theories believes that Israel is supporting Ethiopia to twist Egypt’s arms and thus it is only logical to conduct direct negotiations with the Israelis regarding the Ethiopian dam.
  • Bizarrely enough, Okasha went on to openly negotiate with the Israeli ambassador about Israel’s alleged involvement in assisting the construction of the Ethiopian controversial Dam. He invited the ambassador to his home, which created a stir In the Egyptian parliament. The stir was not simply caused by the anti-peace socialists and members in the Egyptian parliament but also the right for a parliament representative to initiate negotiations with other countries’ without carrying a legal mandate from the House of Representatives. As a result, a vote to unseat Okasha was conducted in hurry and the controversial parliament member found himself ousted from the parliament within a few days of the incident.
  • One of the veteran Parliament members by the name of Kamal Ahmed have actually assaulted Okasha physically and slapped him with his shoe. The veteran member was barred from attending parliament sessions for one year  and the assaulted representative was banished from the parliament entirely. The method that Okasha was banned from his seat in the parliament draws the question on the legality of the method he was stripped of his membership because theoretically the two thirds of the parliament members who voted for his ban could do the same to any other member just by expressing his views or acting in the any method that seems abnormal to the rest. Moreover, this would entail that theoretically a political party with two thirds of the parliament seat could strip the other third members of their memberships one by one under any pretext they may see fit and accordingly any party that holds two thirds of the seats In the future could unseat the minority members one by one thus destroying the fabric of democracy and the very meaning of a parliament.
  • Several Parliament members have been working as TV hosts for talk shows including Said Hassaseen and Mostafa Bakry representing a form of conflict of interest between their work in the legislative branch of the state and as media anchors and analysts. Both members have used their media outlets to attack other members of the senate and propagate their personal views about personal issues. Despite the fact that there’s no law that prohibits this practice or labels it as a conflict of interest. It is still represents a dilemma that the current Parliament has to address. It cannot be fathomable that some members will have media podiums and even used for character assassination of their foes.  Also some of them actually divulge their own personal and political opinions about other countries which can reflect negatively on the parliament and Egypt’s foreign policy.

 Conclusion

The new Egyptian parliament represents a glimpse of hope for a healthy democratic life to dominate the Egyptian political spectrum in the near future. It cannot be discounted that among the many promising traits of the new parliament is that for the first time, the government feels threatened from being forced to resign as a result of a vote of a confidence that might toss the entire government out and form a new government. Nevertheless, the parliament is still marred by the old school parliament members who functioned during times of authoritarianism.

It cannot be mistaken to any observer that the new parliament is torn between members of yesteryears who still believe in the pseudo and fake security warmth provided by Mubarak regime and those daring to differ and attempting to change to push the democratic process in Egypt forward. The struggle is likely to continue for the 5 year duration of this new parliament will witness a presidential election which likely include incumbent President Al Sisi should he chose to run for a second and final 4 year term.

This new parliament of 2015 was elected in a very critical time of Egypt’s long history and has an uphill task to meet the presumed goals and dreams of Egyptians. Those who are keen to restore the missing stability in Egypt since Jan2011 are looking forward for this parliament to fulfill that hard task.

The economic stress, political tension and social stirrups are hard challenges to be faced by the new parliament. Whether they will live up to the task and deliver the hopes of millions of Egyptians for a better life are yet to be seen in the upcoming months and years.

 

 

 

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