From calls to extend presidential terms and proposing 'Virginity' tests to silencing critics both inside and outside parliament's walls, here are just a few of the ways Egypt's parliament is sabotaging the nation's ability to recover.
There's no arguing against the fact that Egypt has a variety of difficult problems to overcome. Pointing at problems is easy, but what becomes incredibly difficult is finding solutions to the wide range of issues affecting the nation. Egyptians often look towards their president to solve all the problems as if he had superpowers or a magical wand that could fix everything. However, that is, and never was, supposed to be the case, because meaningful progress heavily relies on the exchanging of ideas brought up by parliamentary members who are supposed to vocalise and discuss the struggles raised by the constituents who elected them. Instead of holding important debates, Egypt’s parliament seems to be preoccupied with silencing critics, wasting time by proposing ridiculously out-of-date policies like ‘virginity tests’, calling for an extension to presidential terms that could pave the way for a dictatorship, while unofficially becoming just another rubber stamp the President can use to pass policies with little to no debate. This is creating a climate in parliament that is drastically harming Egypt’s ability to solve its plethora of progress restricting problems.
Let’s be clear. This isn’t about whether President Sisi is doing a good or bad job, and this is certainly not a call for the disastrous Muslim Brotherhood to return to politics. This is a plea to Egypt’s parliament to do the job they were elected to do, which is to voice the concerns of their constituents, especially when the issue or policy is controversial. Instead, the majority of Egypt’s parliament members seem to be hastily drafting laws that are not a priority or approving any decision made by the president, while persecuting any member who vocalises their disagreement to either agenda. This is exactly what happened on Monday when 468 of 596 parliament members voted to expel MP Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, the nephew of late President Anwar al-Sadat, accusing him of leaking sensitive information to Western diplomats after he criticised a controversial draft law concerning NGOs.
The law that was passed essentially dismantles the ability of NGOs to function in Egypt by requiring any NGO that receives foreign, or even locally sourced funding, to be monitored and requires them to seek approval on how they spend the money. The law has already forced many important NGOs to halt their operations even though the State Council expressed reservations on almost a third of the new law. Nevertheless, the law was passed. When MP Sadat vocalised his concerns, accusations were made by other MPs leading to an investigation and his expulsion. This decision ultimately creates an atmosphere in parliament that those whose disagree instantly become identified as enemies of the state instead of sparking debate on what’s best for Egypt. This is likely why Sadat resigned from chairing the House of Representatives Committee on Human Rights in August, claiming at the time that parliament was ignoring citizen’s complaints of abuse.
The parliament is not only concerned with discrediting and investigating its own members, but have also widened their scope by calling for investigations into anyone outside of parliament that criticises or insults their decisions. The most recent example also transpired this past week, when parliament backed a complaint originally made by Mortada Mansour to launch an investigation into popular former TV Host and high-profile journalist, Ibrahim Eissa for "ongoing attempts to tarnish the parliament's image," as phrased by MP Moustafa Bakry to Al Ahram. The allegations were made after Eissa’s latest piece in the El Maqal newspaper, where he referred to the parliament as a cartoonish figure, void of authority. Eissa's statement may seem offensive, but what’s more insulting: a commentator/journalist criticising parliament for not doing their job, or a parliament that feels that silencing him is a national priority that requires an investigation?
Even more troublesome is that when the parliament isn’t preoccupied with attacking its own and silencing critics, they seem willing to amplify the voices of members raising concerns on ridiculous issues that shouldn’t even be brought up for discussion. Take the example of the MP, Elhamy Agina, instead of discussing important issues like improving healthcare and education, this MP believes the nation should call on its women to accept female genital mutilation to reduce their sex drive in order to accommodate men’s “sexual weakness”, even though FGM’s has been criminalised since 2008. In fairness, a majority of parliament disagreed with his call, ultimately choosing to impose stricter penalties.
Meanwhile, MP Yousry Al Moghazy believes that “In order to safeguard the country and our children and prevent prostitution, there has to be [virginity] tests.” These calls are not what the country needs now, or ever for that matter, but there’s been no discussion on removing these members from parliament even when calling for Egyptians to commit a crime or putting forth out-of-touch and downright insulting sexist policies that do hurt Egypt’s image abroad while wasting the parliament's time.
As damaging as these policies are to Egypt’s image, they pale in comparison to the damage that could be done with ongoing discussion to extend Sisi’s presidential term from four years to six. The issue is not the president’s performance, but rather the quick erosion of the little democratic gains made in the aftermath of the 2011 uprising that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Extending the presidential term to six years will take the country down a seriously slippery slope that could lead to another 30-year dictator. Proposing the extension and collecting signatures to amend Egypt’s constitution is MP Ismail Nasr Al-Deen. The MP argues that the constitution can be amended if flawed, however, Egypt has yet to elect a president that has completed a full term before being able to assess whether it’s flawed. Former President Morsi didn’t last a year before being overthrown resulting in a call for a new election which brought with it an embarrassingly low turnout, forcing officials to extend voting for an extra day to help legitimise the president’s victory.
If the people are happy with the president’s performance then surely, he will be elected again. However, if the presidential terms are extended and no elections are held, then those disappointed will feel that the only way to elect a new president is by calling for revolutions or will resort to violence, which is infinitely more damaging to the nation than an election. The only way to prevent further problems is by ensuring there is a legal path to change the president instead of allowing anger to mount and spill onto streets.
Egypt’s parliament should not be looking for ways to silence critics and strengthen the current president’s hold on the country, but rather they should strive to provide a safe forum that fosters the exchange of ideas that could benefit Egyptians and the future of our country. Where are game-changing ideas going to come from if MPs are being silenced or removed whenever they raise an objection to a proposed policy? To solve the difficult problems facing Egypt, the parliament needs to move forward by encouraging new ideas and stop the belief that one man can solve all of our nation's problems without allowing for a proper discussion on the issues within its walls, or face having to deal with them when they end up on its streets.
Photo From BBC