Problems on hold
Today, all eyes in Egypt turn to witness the first session of the newly elected House of Representatives. This is the first representative body in the country since the 30 June 2013 Revolution that put an end to the post-2011 Arab Spring Islamist rule in Egypt. The new parliament marks the beginning of a new dawn, the birth of a democratic Egyptian State after a long arduous six-decade-long labour. During that time successive authoritarian regimes ‘put off’ democracy in favour of what they claimed to be more urgent national endeavours. The result was that Egyptians attained neither democracy nor national objectives. The throttled democracy and impotent parliamentary experience led to the 2011Arab Spring uprising to protest against the regime that was then in power, since it was believed that the then President’s son was being groomed to succeed his father and pave the way for dynastic rule or masked monarchy. Egyptians did manage to overthrow the ruling regime then, but the Muslim Brothers (MB) stepped in and took hold of power. They dragged Egypt into a bleak tunnel of the most horrific repressive practices, and in 2012 brought in one of the most catastrophic parliaments in the country’s history. It was an overwhelmingly Islamist parliament that duly earned the title of “School of the Troublemakers”, an apt name borrowed from the 1970s renowned comedy Madrasset al-Mushaghibeen (School of the Troublemakers) where the key players were characterised by reckless behaviour and lack ofvision. That “School of Troublemakers” parliament ravaged all parliamentary and democratic norms. One Islamist MP who is, curiously, a lawyer even proposed that parliament should substitute ‘revolutionary legitimacy’ for constitutional legitimacy; a clear allusion to the Islamists’ intention to put aside the Constitution and apply whatever policies they thought fit. This meant they would resort to their time-honoured practice of “the end justifies the means” to turn Egypt into an Islamist State.
These are not pleasant reminiscences as we stand on the threshold of a new parliament today. Yet they are necessary lest we forget our previous bitter experience and take today’s great feat for granted. Today, Egypt’s new parliament comes to life, and with it the historic responsibility of building a new civic modern democratic Egypt. MPs should realise that the Egyptians whom they represent look up to them to fulfil this aspiration, and that this momentous responsibility cannot be taken lightly, failing it is tantamount to high treason.
This parliament—the first House of Representatives since the 30 June 2013 Revolution—will conduct its legislative and monitoring responsibilities according to a Constitution that is among the greatest in Egypt’s history. The 2014 Constitution roots the principles of citizenship and equality in rights and duties. It secures freedoms and gathers Egyptians under one national umbrella that embraces them all no matter their diversity or differences.
This House of Representatives is, moreover, unprecedented in that it includes, in a balanced manner, all sectors and categories of Egyptians; men and women, Muslims and Christians, elderly and youth, professionals, workers, and peasants, healthy and handicapped, Egyptians living inside and outside Egypt. For the first time the parliamentary dome will stand over a balanced diverse fabric that expresses Egypt in her entirety and reflects her keenness to hold all her children under her wing. I mentioned before that if Egyptians have sent such a diverse group of people into parliament, it is not for parliament to become a stage for conflict or communal strife, and certainly not for each sector to defend its particular rights and interests to the detriment of those of other sectors. Rather, Egyptians should exploit this rich diversity to empower the Constitution and secure the rights of all, entrenching thus the concepts of full citizenship and equality.
The climate prevalent in Egypt today is one of reassurance and hope; Egyptians are confident that their House of Representatives will establish the democratic norms we have long hoped for, and will bring about the renaissance of a civic modern democratic Egypt. The task is a daunting one.
10 January 2016