Tuesday, 24 January 2012

A Few Thoughts On An Historic First Day For The Egyptian Parliament

I have so much to say about today, the first session of Egypt's post-revolution Parliament. I will write in bullet points, for a change.

- Today, almost half of the members of the nation's first truly free-and-fairly-elected Parliament were either from the MB or allied with it. Almost a year ago, not a single member of parliament belonged to the MB, in an all out war by the former regime and its currently-jailed draconian whip Ahmed Ezz against the MB. And much like many MB members had grown accustomed to jail, now their former jailers are in the ones in jail. Even further, out of 504 members of Parliament, the MB's/FJP's (former) Secretary General Saad Al Katany was "elected" as Parliamentary Speaker by 399 votes. The irony. The times have changed indeed. A historic moment.

- We spent the best part of the previous year fighting over the "Political Treason Law", a law that would ban former NDP members from running for office again, at least for this one five-year round. Not much of that has been really achieved, but (as Marc Lynch notes in a post) it was ironically the Egyptians themselves who turned their back on the felool (regime remnants), and gave them only a negligible share of parliament. Even further, they punished any current legitimate political force that attempted to reintegrate them into the political scene, and denied them their votes. That simply took us all by surprise, much like the political ascent of the Salafis. It was a remarkable thing to see happen.

- Much like the Mubarak Trial, I expect the live broadcast of parliamentary sessions to introduce us to a good deal of over-the-top performances. Many members of Parliament will seek to appease their bases, at the cost of political pragmatism, or simply go through a continuous parade of self-campaigning. I cringe at the thought, and can only help that political evolution will help create an eventual balance between showmanship and actual patriotic and pragmatic political work.

- In a moment of intense irony, "Sheikh Sayyid Askar" took over the temporary duties of Acting Parliamentary Speaker while the actual Speaker was taking a short break due to exhaustion. "Sheikh Sayyid Askar" is translated directly as "A Sheikh who is a master over military men." The irony.

- A lot has been made about the entire "swearing of the oath" issue, with the Salafi members attempting to add "as long as God's law is not violated" at the end of the oath. The original oath is to swear to "to protect faithfully the country's safety, the republican regime, to take care of the people's interests and to respect the Constitution and the law." Al Masry Al Youm's English Version Egypt Independent called "A Possible Sign of What's To Come." Well, we'll find out, and we can at least tell from now quite a bit that the political divide in Parliament is as real as it gets.

- For the first time in the modern history of the Egyptian Parliament, journalists were free to roam the halls of this historic building as they wished, while Parliament was in session. This information might seem superfluous to some, but I find it quite poignant.

- Of course you probably already know this, but I might as well add it for the sake of the documentation of the day's events here. In a statement to parliament from SCAF's Field Marshall Tantawi read by Speaker Al-Katatny, Parliament now assumed legislative and oversight powers over from SCAF. I will try to write another post in a few hours regarding what that might mean to the coming January 25th Protests.

- Some MPs wore yellow scarves with the famous inscription and logo of "No To Military Trials." What was both disappointing yet understandable was that most regularly active Egyptians on social media rushed to the mocking critique of those MPs, arguing that they were "putting on a show" and trying to win "patriotic credentials." While I understand the disappointment of all Egyptians (whether pro, anti, or undecided towards the revolution) with their politicians, I still found the sarcasm too disappointing. A good act sometimes just needs to be saluted. Even if the act of wearing those scarves was entirely for the sake of hypocrisy, then it's at least a kind of hypocrisy we'd like to see much more of as citizens. Bring on the hypocrisy, please.

- The fact that Al-Wasat's Essam Sultan made a last minute run against El-Katatny for Parliamentary Speaker indicates that "all has been arranged" is somewhat of an exaggerated myth. This leaves both an element of both intrigue and worry, over both how the council will conduct itself the coming times with regards to the general spirit of floor debates and legislative priorities, as well as over the constitutional debate in particular.

All I hope for, at the moment, from the members of Parliament is one thing: make your first few bills of legislation truly count, and genuinely worthy of the historic moment. Give us something we can all be proud of, something we can all cheer for. We need it as a people, and you owe it to us.

First Photo Of What Appears To Be Liberals and Islamists
 Working Together On Something

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