Problems on hold
Last week, Egypt’s House of Representatives commenced its third legislative round after it had adjourned for summer recess, and Egyptians—the public, media, and official bodies—went back to keenly following parliament’s performance in its legislative and supervisory capacities. Parliament is the spine of the democratic system, and its own maturity and grasp of the bases of the modern civic State determine the quality of its performance.
No one can deny the scale of legislative achievement the House of Representatives realised during its first two sessions, and of which the Speaker of the House and the MPs are so proud. However, the generally tense mood that pervaded parliamentary life and characterised debate under the dome leave a lot to be desired. It came as no surprise, however, given the confused political stances in parliament, which owe to party fragmentation and the blurred lines between parliamentary blocs. All this took its toll on the performance of the House; edginess and chaos ruled, violence and clashes were the answer to conflicting opinions, and hysterical verbal fights that bordered on slander replaced debate. Occasionally, matters got out of hand to the point of physical skirmishes. It is no secret that the responsibility of avoiding or managing such situations falls mainly on the House Speaker whose political and parliamentary savvy should allow intervention at the nick of time, before violations exacerbate. He should act as a safety valve; at times armed with the House’s bylaws, and at others with shrewdness and prudence.
It is sad that any comparison between the current House Speaker, Ali Abdel-Aal, and his predecessor of the pre-Arab-Spring Mubarak times Ahmed Fathy Surour strongly favours Dr Surour. In fact, successive former speakers of Egypt’s parliaments brilliantly succeeded in establishing traditions of respectful dialogue and conflict-management mechanisms, through conventional wisdom, reason and thoughtfulness.
More important, however, is that if the House of Representatives is serious about correcting its performance, it must firmly address the issue of political fragmentation within its members. I am aware that the current party scene which includes numerous political currents yet feeble blocs, devoid of identity, is behind the fragmentation. This was especially obvious during the parliamentary elections two years ago when parties and political blocs lacked clear-cut platforms, and independent individual candidates swamped the scene. Voters found themselves at a loss, therefore resorted to voting for individuals who promised them services they needed, or were public figures or heads of clans. The outcome was the absence of political platforms and blocs that constitute the right, centre, and left under the dome. Parliamentary performance thus drifted away from majority and minority considerations, and became subject to personal whims; hence the tension, hysterics, and chaos that ruled the floor.
The current parliament has three rounds ahead of it before its term expires. Can there be any hope for an initiative that emanates from within the House to invite MPs to align themselves into strong political blocs with clearly defined convictions? Is it at all possible for the MPs to reorganise themselves into three blocs: right, centre and left; and to accordingly formulate clear political visions for each bloc? Such a move would rectify parliamentary performance, spell the end to political fragmentation on the party scene, and ensure healthy parliamentary elections in the future.
As for the legislative agenda of the House during its third parliamentary round, Dr Abdel-Aal recently gave an interview to the daily Sate-owned ++al-Ahram++, in which he mentioned a number of the bills awaiting discussion. He cited bills governing criminal procedures, consumer protection, local administration, work, labour, professional syndicates, youth, protecting persons with disability, regulating the press and media, and others. It caught my attention that Dr Abdel-Aal made no mention of the family law for Christians which the Constitution stipulates in its third article. I am fully aware that this bill has been drafted and is now with the government awaiting presentation to parliament. But I do not feel really sorry that it was not mentioned among the legislative agenda; I still hold hopes that the bill would be amended to include provisions for equal inheritance for men and women, before it finds its way under parliament’s dome.
8 Ocotber 2017