Problems on hold
The end of the second round of Egypt’s five-year-legislative-term-parliament calls for an evaluation of the performance of both its legislative and supervisory roles. In an attempt to present to our readers a roundup of what the House of Representatives achieved during the last round which will shortly come to an end, Watani met Karim Salem, MP for the mostly upscale district of Heliopolis, east of Cairo. Mr Salem expounded on the legislation passed by the House, and of the long, arduous hours of work put in by parliament’s specialised committees to thoroughly probe all aspects concerned with the laws passed. He explained the life cycle of any item of new legislation: it has to be studied, discussed, and drafted by the special parliamentary committee concerned; demands by the executive authority to amend or change any of its articles have to be considered, then it is referred in its final form to the House’s plenary committee through which it gains approval and is passed as law. It thus makes its way into the legislative system that regulates the lives of Egyptians.
The talk with Mr Salem was no coincidence; it came in line with Watani’s intention to complete its evaluation of the current parliament in a reasonable, objective manner, steering clear of the hysterical, boisterous conflict that characterised this round and marred Egypt’s democratic maturity and deep-rooted parliamentary tradition. Watani sought a calm voice that chose to remain out of the hysterics.
Watani then took to the street to seek the opinion of mainstream Egyptians on the performance of their parliament. The roundup that Watani published in its issue of 16 July 2017 measured the extent to which Egyptians are following up on the performance of the House of Representatives. It also presented the public’s opinion on whether or not the House succeeded in fulfilling its legislative role and, more importantly, the degree to which it met public expectations in supervising the performance of the executive authority.
Today Watani opens the file of the relation between the voter and the MP, a delicate issue that has long been placed on hold. Shrouded in confusion and shortcoming, this relationship has remained confined to one of the following models:
• The voter is an electoral object. While campaigning for parliamentary elections, a candidate is after his or her vote; once the candidate makes it to the House, the relation ends.
• The voter cares nothing for the performance of the MP in parliament, be it on the legislative or supervisory levels. The relation between voter and MP is confined to the voter’s pursuit of privileges or special favours from the executive authority, through mediation of the MP. Hence the term “services MPs” coined by the media to denote this species of MPs who endear themselves to their constituency with the many privileges they can mediate for. The more the benefits, the more valuable the MP to his constituents.
• The MP looks down upon the voters and detaches himself or herself from them the minute he or she wins a seat in parliament. The MP refrains from discussing with members of the constituency legislation, proposals or draft laws, and does not involve them in evaluating the performance of the executive authority. Once he or she gains a seat in parliament, the MP adopts an erroneous widespread concept that he or she has become a representative of the public in its entirety. Armed by this concept, MPs delve into the national aspect of representation, and overlook the local aspect which made this representation possible in the first place.
Accordingly, a serious gap separating citizens from the legislative arena was generated over time. As a result of their marginalisation and lack of involvement in the legislative process, Egyptians in their majority either do not know or do not care. It is as if they have delegated the MP they voted for to think, discuss, evaluate and decide for them, and they should be grateful and proud to assume the role of recipient. Thus the concept “rule of the people by the people” has been lost and replaced by “rule of the people by the MPs”.
We are in dire need of boosting the role of the electoral base in parliamentary life. This applies to both independent and party MPs. Our research on that score proved that they are all out of touch with their electoral base. MPs held very few meetings with their constituents or conferences that aimed at acquainting them with the system of legislation, evaluation and decision-making. The gap between voter and MP is getting increasingly wider; the relation between them has been reduced to non-consequential mutual benefits.
23 July 2017