Problems on hold
With the election of a new parliament earlier this month, Egypt at last completed the steps charted by its Roadmap for a democratic future. The Roadmap was jointly drawn in July 2013 by representatives of the various sectors of the Egyptian society following the overthrow of the Islamist post-Arab Spring regime. The first step on the Roadmap was the establishment of a Constitution; Egyptians in January 2014 approved a new Constitution which is now seen as the best in Egypt’s history. The second was the election of a president; Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was elected for that post in June 2014. To date President Sisi is loved and supported by the majority of Egyptians—a Baseera poll indicates that, in his 17th month (October 2015) in office, 85 per cent of Egyptians approved his performance—an almost unprecedented feat. Finally, after elections characterised with remarkable integrity and transparency, Egyptians now have a parliament that expresses their will.
I wish to shed light on a specific issue which the State had placed on hold, baffling Egyptians one and all. Even though the Constitution bans political parties based on religion, the Parties Affairs Committee looked the other way and allowed such parties to operate freely and contest the elections as though there was nothing against them. On 12 September, the Administrative Court convicted the Committee for refraining from action against religious-based parties—in this case Islamic-based parties—but the Committee again lifted not a finger. Seculars, including myself, were livid at the Committee’s inaction. Today, however, I say every cloud has a silver lining; I see the matter in a different light. Had the Parties Affairs Committee excluded the Islamic-based parties from parliamentary elections, those parties would have gone into hysterical fits and played the martyrs. They would have claimed that Egyptian authorities conspired to exclude them from parliament because they possessed the voter base that would have secured them a sweeping majority. Now the ballot box has accomplished what the Parties Affairs Committee failed to achieve, and the Constitution has been upheld not by law but by the will of Egyptians. Religious parties—the Salafi al-Nour tops the list—should now know their real size as reflected in the smattering of seats they won in the House of Representatives.
Egypt’s new parliament features 568 elected members, 57 per cent independents and 43 per cent members of political parties. The President should appoint additional members whose number makes 5 per cent of the number of elected MPs. What can we expect of this parliament? How will its majority and opposition be formed in order to best achieve the political balance that would enable them to carry out their constitutional responsibility of legislation and monitoring the executive authority?
We all recall the fierce competition that ruled the electioneering, and the arduous attempts to form party coalitions to escape fragmentation of the vote; the political tug of war went on right up to the last minute. Now, Fi Hub Masr (For the Love of Egypt) coalition has garnered 120 parliamentary seats. Among the seats won by the various political parties, 65 went to al-Misriyeen al-Ahrar (The Free Egyptians). This constitutes the largest number of seats won by any single party, despite the fact that it was the first time al-Misriyeen al-Ahrar runs for parliament; it managed to overtake such old-time favourites as al-Wafd party. As for the coalitions that won the elections, they will not necessarily form the majority and the opposition in parliament. Major General Sameh Seif al-Yazal, a prominent figure on Fi Hub Masr said the coalition had run its course and ended with the elections, and that negotiations were already underway to form a new coalition that would constitute a parliamentary majority.
As I see it, the move to form a parliamentary majority by party and independent MPs reflects maturity and a sense of political responsibility. I hope this maturity will take us away from the pre-elections conflicts and bargaining that led me to write last September “Will the ‘kids’ grow up?” [http://en.wataninet.com/opinion/editorial/problems-on-hold-will-the-kids-grow-up/14688/ ] the following:
“The responsibility of representing the people in parliament is a serious one and is definitely no picnic. It is a national responsibility and must be honoured; national interest should come above narrow benefits. One party leader recently said: ‘If we have failed to form coalitions in preparation for the elections, let us then contest the elections each on his own, for everyone to know his true weight on the political map. When we then meet in parliament, it will be easier to unite and rise above the squabbles. Each of us should have by then known his actual weight and the size he won of the cake’.”
We have now reached the intricate stage that demands wisdom and national responsibility to form parliamentary forces with the required balance of majority and opposition. Only then will all involved be able to carry out their role and lead Egypt to the new phase of a modern, democratic State.
13 December 2015