Problems on hold
Saturday 2 June marked an important occasion in Egyptian political life: President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi took constitutional oath before the House of Representatives for a second four-year presidential term that would stretch from 2018 to 2022. For President and parliament, the inauguration ceremony is a major event during which the elected representatives of the people witness the elected president swear: “I vow to faithfully preserve the republican system; to respect the Constitution and the law; to fully care for the interest of the people; and to preserve the independence of the homeland, its unity, and safety of its land.”
Article 144 of the Constitution stipulates that, in case of absence of a house of representatives, the constitutional oath shall be taken before the General Assembly of the Supreme Constitutional Court. It was thus that in 2014, President Sisi was sworn in for his first presidential term before the Constitutional Court, since the House of Representatives had not yet been elected. That was not too far back; the scene is still vivid in my mind, and I cannot help but compare both scenes: that of 2014 and the more recent one in 2018. The scene four years ago in the Constitutional Court was a picture of dignity, prestige, and respect; whereas last week’s in the House of Representatives overflowed with enthusiasm and jubilation. The former was predominated with reverent silence reflecting the magnitude of the occasion and the huge responsibility that lay ahead, but the latter appeared a populist celebration that traded seriousness and discipline for applause and cheers, to the point where MPs interrupted the session to extol the President’s virtues or read out poems that they had written for him. I must admit that, with all due respect for the Constitution’s wisdom in requiring the President to take oath before parliament in its capacity as the representation of the people, I do wish the presidential oath would have been stipulated to be taken before the Supreme Constitutional Court instead.
Back to President Sisi’s speech before the House of Representatives following his swearing in: I commend his courtesy, poise and patience vis-à-vis the unchecked spontaneous applause, interruptions and cheers that resounded in the hall. The President’s speech was calm and diplomatic; he mainly evoked future objectives and aspirations rather than tackle current challenges and means of addressing them.
The President commended the Cairo-based al-Azhar, the world’s topmost authority on Sunni Islam, as the promoter of a moderate, enlightened message of Islam. He did not mention, however, if anything had been achieved on his repeated call for al-Azhar to reform the religious address. Neither did he refer to what should be done to eradicate the fanaticism, extremism and fundamentalism still resolutely propagated by some of al-Azhar’s scholars, and firmly entrenched in its publications and teachings.
The President mentioned the Coptic Church as a symbol of peace, and commended her wisdom and patriotism in dealing with crises. He praised the Church’s insight in immunising the congregation against the use of violence or any practice that tampers with national unity in retaliation against the terrorist attacks [waged by fundamentalist against the Copts]. But he made no mention of the failure of local administrative and security officials to uphold the law and State prestige in the face of the attacks against Copts waged by extremists and fundamentalists adamant in opposing the building of churches or reopening closed ones, despite the law.
The President never broached the issue of reforming political parties, although he stood before parliament, which is the mainstay of parties, and despite his previous call to parties to address fragmentation by joining forces and forming substantial political blocs. The President and parliament are equally and fully aware that this challenge must be addressed before the end of the second presidential term, and that the political scene must be set to generate strong effective political calibres fit for power rotation.
I have cited my contemplations on the President’s swearing in session, hoping they remain afloat on top of the national challenges file, instead of getting buried amid problems placed on hold.
10 June 2018