Drawing up Egypt’s future

03-02-2012 12:17 PM

Fady Labib

As the Shura Council elections take place, it is hoped the council will be geared towards…Drawing up Egypt’s future
Even though the Shura (Consultative)

As the Shura Council elections take place, it is hoped the council will be geared towards…Drawing up Egypt’s future
Even though the Shura (Consultative) Council is the upper house of Egypt’s parliament and, as such, holds special significance in today’s restless political climate in Egypt, broad debate continues to rage on regarding its role and prerogatives. 
The first stage of the Shura elections were held last Sunday with the run-offs slated for next Tuesday, and the second stage will be held on 14-15 February and the run-offs one week later. The Shura Council includes 270 members, of whom 180 are directly elected, and 90 are appointed by the head of state for a period of six years. Council membership for the elected members is renewed every three years and, as in case of the People’s Assembly, the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament, half the council’s seats should be held by labourers and farmers. The electoral system stipulates that 120 council members are elected via party-lists, while 60 members are elected through individual candidacies in 30 electoral districts throughout the country.
Pundits and politicians are divided upon the significance of the Shura Council. Some see the elections as a waste of time, effort and money, and place it well in the shade of drafting a new constitution. They expect the new constitution would make changes among which would be axing the Shura Council in the coming phase.
Amina Naqqash, vice-president of the Tagammu party, says the parliamentary elections will leave the Shura Council without any practical duties such as those it was granted in 2007 but which were dropped in the wake of the referendum on the constitution held in March 2011. In her opinion, the Shura Council should go.
Amr Hashim Rabie of the Political and Strategic Studies group agrees. He said that the Shura Council’s powers are very limited and that over the past few years it has gained a bad reputation. It should improve its image or be cancelled, he says.   
However Louis Bishara, a former Shura member, believes its existence is an important component of public life.           
Vital role
Watani’s Robeir al-Faris has nominted himself in Minya, Upper Egypt—his birthplace—for the Shura Council, which he believes can play a vital role in the coming phase. Minya is included in the second stage of the elections.
Mr Faris talked to Watani about how he sees the Shura, and on what he hopes to achieve should he be elected. 
The current debate, in Mr Faris’ opinion, is all about the Shura’s position as an important player in the revision of laws. Any law that is passed by the People’s assembly, the lower house of Egypt’s Parliament, has to go to the Shura for final approval.
Since the Shura Council is the upper house of the Egyptian parliament and its name means ‘Consultative Council’, it should have the power to make the utmost use of its membership of intellectuals, experts, and pundits.
“I hope the new constitution will contain articles that grant significant legislative powers to the Shura Council rather than leaving all the parliamentary affairs to the People’s Assembly, the majority of whose members—with all due respect—have been known to offer their constitutencies much-needed services instead of focusing on the legislative process as one that requires a clear perspective of policies and thought.” 
Back on the tourist map
Asked how he would deal with persuading the mainstream Minya person of the need to focus more on new ideas and policies rather than direct, short-term services, Mr Faris said he was more concerned with Egypt’s future as a whole, which is bound to automatically benfit Minyawis. 
“My ambition is to help encourage voters to make fair and good choices. Changing the views of society will of course take time,” he said. 
“Where Minya is directly concrned,” Mr Faris said, “I intend to focus on the potential of the region as a prime tourist destination, yet one that has been consistently ignored. Minya boasts many important monuments that date back to different eras: the Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic.” If he is elected in the Shura Council, Mr Faris says, he is planning a number of projects to put Minya’s monuments back on Egypt’s tourist map, and thus open job opportunities for the governorate’s sons and daughters.
Among Mr Faris’s proposed projects is to set up Sound and Light shows at several locations, including the Beni Hassan tombs; Kom Maria, renowned by its visit from the Holy Family; and Tel Amarna, site of the ancient Egyptian city that was the short-lived capital of the ‘heretic’ pharaoh Akhenaten and was abandoned shortly after his death in about 1332BC. Mr Faris’s project would include a multi-lingual open air theatre to showcase Akhenaten’s life and a large Islamic centre in the village of Sheikh Ebada under the supervision of al-Azhar. 
Thought as a weapon
“I will do my best to make use of the Japanese experiment, which eliminated illiteracy through broadcasting programmes on domestic TV channels,” Mr Faris said, noting that the illiteracy rate in rural Minya is too high to be left unheeded. 
It is no secret that Mr Faris is running as an independent and, himself a self-made man who was raised in rural Minya, must come up with campaigning costs that are a challenge to meet. So how did he manage his campaign, Watani asked.
 “I already have a group of friends on Facebook, and many of my friends decided to contribute to my Shura Council campaign. Some helped through donations in money or in kind, in the form of booklets or printed material which I handed out to the villagers in Minya on my campaign trail,” he said.
“I use a novel way of publicising my name,” Mr Faris said. “I approach passengers on the train to Upper Egypt. I also use Nile boats, microbuses and ‘tuk-tuks’ as different means of distributing my brochures.” 
Mr Faris is facing fierce competition from other parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party and al-Nour party, representing the Salafis. Both use money and religion, both of which have great influence in such conditions. “I am using the weapon of thought, work and will, since I possess nothing but these tools in the way of change.”  
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