Egypt’s parliament unruly but effective
Since it first sat in January 2016, the current Egyptian parliament has held three sessions, during which it has approved hundreds of decisions that were adopted before its election. During that same period, it has issued hundreds of decrees and laws, some of which were controversial, some of which went unnoticed, while others positively contributed to building state institutions and developing the economy.
However, the parliament has always been the subject of controversy among those who feel it does not match the aspirations of the Egyptian people and does not reflect their stance, and those who believe that its performance cannot be better than it already is.
The first few months were marked by a number of lapses and errors resulting from statements or actions inside and outside the parliament, most notably those by House Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal, who at times irritably threatens MPs and at other times jokes with them.
His persistent slip-ups have led some newspapers and websites, as well as social media groups, to launch campaigns against him, thus creating tension between the speaker and the press. This has built to the point of clear and explicit threats being issued against Al-Ahram, a well-established Egyptian newspaper. Abdel-Aal also attacked a number of other Egyptian newspapers that had investigated the “voting by proxy” process in the parliament.
Abdel-Aal said during a plenary session: “There are two biased newspapers that diffuse malicious accusations about proxy voting; do not believe them. These newspapers are known by name and we are aware of their purposes.” This outburst came in response to MP Mohammed Anwar Sadat’s query about “multiple voting,” where one person can vote on more than one electronic voting machine using magnetic authorization cards misplaced or left in the hall by their rightful owners.
It is clear the parliament’s performance during the first few months was poor. The ongoing problem of an empty chamber led Abdel-Aal to implore members to remain for plenary sessions, telling them: “There are laws that need to be approved by a majority of two-thirds of the members, but here you go for lunch and then you leave the hall.”
Abdel-Aal treats MPs as a teacher treats his students. During one session, he expelled MP Ahmed Tantawi, saying: “The people entrusted us this country, so we must safeguard it. Some want to undermine the Egyptian state, and there is no place for them in this room.” Abdel-Aal also threatened to withdraw the 25-30 Alliance’s membership in parliament after it objected to a government policy statement.
Nonetheless, the parliament has played a positive role by enacting legislation that has helped to attract investment and boosted the economic resources of the country, including the added tax law and the customs tax. It also approved the controversial and long-disputed civil service law, which further consolidates justice in the eyes of some, and budget projects that reinforced the stability of the economy.
The parliament has always been the subject of controversy among those who feel it does not match the aspirations of the Egyptian people… and those who believe that its performance cannot be better than it already is
Some politicians believe the current parliament does not match the desires and ambitions of the people as a result of the election law based on which it was elected, as a closed-lists system cannot deliver politicians that speak the language of the people.
Other politicians believe that MPs are making every effort to serve the citizens. Some even called for parliamentary sessions to be broadcast so that the people can see what their representatives are doing for them.
The third session of the House of Representatives concluded after discussing the program of the government of Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, granting it a vote of confidence by a majority of votes on Wednesday.
MPs are now on a summer break and will return to the parliament at the beginning of October, when the fourth session of the first legislative term will begin.
In the meantime, the debate about the role of the parliament during this important phase of Egypt history will continue.
- Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy