Assessing Egypt’s one-party parliament: Part 1

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By Omnia Al Desoukie and Tamim Elyan

CAIRO: After the controversial People’s Assembly elections, the credibility of which was widely questioned, opposition powers as well as prominent independent MPs found no place for themselves in parliament in favor of a sweeping NDP majority.

The ruling party swept 420 seats out of 518, Al-Tagammu Party lead the opposition with only five seats, Al-Adala, Al-Ghad, Al-Geel and Al-Salam Parties each won one seat; while Al-Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) refused to recognize their six elected candidates — five and one respectively — who they said violated their decision to boycott the runoff elections.

“The opposition has been completely eliminated from parliament,” said Mohamed Khalil Kwaitah, former NDP MP.

“The absence of an opposition block is unprecedented in parliaments all over the world; now the government can do what it wants with no questioning,” Kwaitah added.

Sixty-eight independent MPs were elected, 53 of whom affiliated with the NDP creating what many experts called “a parliamentary body for the NDP,” rather than a representative parliament that can fulfill its role of monitoring the government’s performance.

“This elected parliament can be described as a very weak one with more than 90 percent of its members affiliated with the ruling party, this will marginalize its role in the political life,” said Amr Hashem Rabei, political expert specialized in parliamentary affairs at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

“For a parliament to be efficient in monitoring the government’s performance and fighting corruption and monopoly, 25 percent of its members have to belong to the opposition,” Rabei added.

“With these results, we returned to the one-party system from the 1970s when the ruling party had [the sole] authority,” said Ammar Ali Hassan, a political analyst.

“The NDP wants to persuade citizens, who are burdened with financial problems, that they are the only ones who are capable of addressing their needs as opposed to opposition parties,” said Mohamed Sherdy, spokesperson of Al-Wafd Party and former MP.

“Despite constraints we were able to have an effect and serve our voters but they — the NDP — want to deny us any achievement,” he added.

Hassan described the opposition in Egypt as constrained and closely attached to the regime.

“In Egypt, the NDP chooses its opposition; first through the parties’ affairs committee that gives authorizations for new parties to operate or not, then through creating rifts within parties to affect their popularity,” Hassan said.

In 2005, adopting the slogan “Islam is the Solution” the Brotherhood grabbed 88 PA seats for the first time in history, forming the main opposition bloc in parliament and becoming the leading opposition power in Egypt’s political scene.

However, Hassan said that the 110 opposition MPs, as weak as they were, managed to create some dynamism inside the former parliament and hampered a number of laws in addition to bringing major issues into the public’s attention.

On the other hand, while experts condemned the NDP’s monopoly, they said the effect that the opposition had was minimal in the previous parliament and that their absence won’t have a strong impact.

“The government could simply pass any law in the past with the presence of the opposition and will still do in its absence,” said Hassan Nafa’a, professor of political science at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.

“The opposition could put some pressure to modify some secondary elements in the laws and legislations proposed but they could never change the core of any law,” Nafa’a added.

Opposition powers argue that it is something out of their hands citing practices that constrained them.

“A special PA committee selected only the weak enquiries, leaving some of our other major enquiries unanswered,” said Hamdy Hassan, head of the MB parliamentary bloc in the past parliament.

“Other measures were childish and varied from referring MB representatives to the ethics committee, insulting [some members] and preventing us from voicing our opinion,” he added.

A parallel parliament
As elected MPs gathered under the People Assembly’s dome in their first session to vote for the president of the parliament, former opposition MPs and figures gathered to announce the formation of a parallel parliament.

The need to break the NDP’s ruling political environment prompted a number of opposition figures to join forces including Hamdeen Sabahi, founder of the Karama Party, former independent MP Mostafa Bakry as well as around 30 members of Al-Wafd and Karama political parties and the Muslim Brotherhood among other former MPs.

Founders of the parallel parliament say that they resorted to this option as a sign of civil disobedience and that the Egyptian people will notice the difference in performance between both parliaments.

But shortly after, People’s Assembly Speaker Fathi Sorour denounced the idea in an interview with Egyptian television. “I am worried for them [opposition], as Article 86 of the penal code criminalizes this act because this is considered a gathering that threatens social peace,” he said.

To analysts, while the parallel parliament has no legislative weight, it is an entity that will stand with the people to confront the government. However, given Sorour’s remark, analysts argue that there is no room left for political reform in Egypt.

Nonetheless, analysts like Amr El-Chobaki of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies said: “The role of this parallel parliament is to establish new opposition within the government to combat the succession scenario that will create alternatives.”

Whether Egyptians will endorse the parallel parliament remains unclear as analysts and law professors argue that it is unconstitutional.

“This [parallel] parliament is just a voice of objection; however it does not stand as an alternative to Egypt’s legislative body,” said El-Chobaki.
El-Chobaki argued that a mass arrest of the parallel parliament’s prominent figures is unlikely, focusing instead on the real challenges the People’s Assembly is facing, such as conflicts between MPs’ personal motives creating internal rifts in parliament.



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