Problems on hold
This is the third time I find myself obliged to borrow the name of the 1970s popular, interconnected plays Madrasset al-Mushaghibeen (School of the Troublemakers) and al-Eyal Kebret (The Kids have Grown Up) as I write about Egypt’s House of Representatives. The maincharacters in both plays were reckless and lacked vision but, by the end of the latter, they had learnt their lesson and matured. With all due respect to the theatrical characters and Egypt’s MPs, the parliamentary sessions held so far have been a strong reminder of the first play. The inaugural session held earlier this month, which was a procedural session, and the subsequent sessions were an utter disappointment. Time-honoured parliamentary traditions that always reigned under the parliament dome were traded for behaviour and language at best alien to parliamentary norms. The mayhem and chaos that at times prevailed were a strong reminder of the ‘school of the troublemakers’ whereas Egyptians had strongly hoped that ‘the kids had grown up’.
Lest anyone thinks I speak only of the MPs when I allude to the departure from courtesy and propriety in parliament, let me say that the general secretariat of the parliament shares in the responsibility. The House’s secretariat lacks neither the experience nor organisation skills that should make it capable of maintaining order and dignity, and should never have slipped into jeopardising parliament’s prestige. I here cite some of the errors committed.
The House of Representatives’ procedural session started by calling the names of the MPs one by one for each to take the oath as per the Constitution. At the outset, each name called was preceded with “Mr Honourable MP”. This indicated that venerable parliamentary traditions were being upheld. But it was absolutely disappointing to find that this title was not put into the feminine when addressing female MPs.
In several instances the House’s secretariat mispronounced the names of MPs, which led them to correct their misread names before taking the oath. In a few instances, the names of male MPs were taken to indicate female names and vice versa; this caused embarrassment to both the secretariat and the MPs.
The secretariat displayed an alarming level of disorganisation once the election of the Speaker of the House started. After calling the MPs each by name to cast their vote, some MPs argued that voting should be done behind a screen in order to ensure secrecy and privacy. The secretariat rectified its organisational failure by hastening to bring in a curtain and set up a makeshift ‘booth’ for this purpose. But the MPs then demanded that the secretariat should place a desk or table behind the curtain in order for the MPs to be able to write down the name they voted for. Once again the secretariat complied. The Speaker of the procedural session, Bahaa’ Abu-Shuqa, had then to annul the votes that had already been cast, and call all the MPs once more, one by one, to vote.
The manner in which the MP names were called was inconsistent; sometimes the secretary calling the names used the title “Mr Honourable MP” and sometimes not. A problem arose when the secretary called the members appointed by the President “Mr Honourable Appointed MP”; they argued that there is no difference between an elected and an appointed MP. The secretary then corrected the error and addressed all members as “Mr Honourable MP”.
The remarks relating to the House’s secretariat may seem trivial for some, but those who appreciate the weight, history and traditions of parliament will realise that the mistakes committed were grave, and that the errors should have never occurred in the first place.
As far as the MPs themselves are concerned, a few took to expressing their opinion crudely during the sessions, and even bragged about it, claiming that the ‘era of the tyranny of authorities’ has come to an end and that MPs can now express themselves whichever way they pleased. It is the responsibility of the Speaker of the House to defend parliamentary traditions and insist upon respectable norms. He must not take the violations committed by MPs lightly, and must not hesitate to apply the House’s regulations in order to deter the attempts at defiance or unruliness that are already surfacing. The verbal provocation is more often than not gross grandstanding as the sessions are partly aired or reported in the media. Unfortunately, these MPs got just what they wanted; their photos, speeches, and behaviour have made the headlines in the press and talk shows. They appear to care neither for public support nor hostility as long as they can make the headlines.
It is now in the hands of the Speaker of the House, Ali Abdel-Al, to deter the unruliness while still in the cradle. Not only should he work to uphold venerable parliamentary traditions and stop the unruly in their tracks, but he should also curb the appetite of anyone who would care to follow in the tracks of those grandstanding MPs.
Egypt has walked an arduous road in order to bring in this parliament which shoulders the historic responsibility of direly-needed legislative reform. The Speaker of the House and his deputies bear the brunt of confronting the ‘troublemakers’ and preserving the tradition and dignity of the House of Representatives.
24 January 2016