CAIRO: Cooperation between the parliament and Tahrir revolutionaries is a must to end the troubled transitional period Egypt is undergoing since toppling the country’s strongman Hosni Mubarak, a group of academics at the American University in Cairo (AUC) said during a panel discussion Tuesday.
"Working on this cooperation is the first challenge that will face the new parliament, not just with Tahrir revolutionaries, but also the connection with the hopes and aspirations of normal citizens outside Tahrir Square," professor of Public Policy at AUC and MP Amr Hamzawy said.
Hamzawy also said that time is a very challenging factor, the parliament is faced by many challenges that need to be resolved in a short period of time, one of which is drafting the constitution.
"We are afraid that the new parliament may waste time to build reconciliation between the different political streams in it, which will disappoint the revolutionary street and the public," Hamzawy said.
He also pointed out the lack of a neutral stream that can quell the Islamist-secular tension that will arise inside the parliament, which will also address the more pressing demands of social justice.
"There is a professionalism challenge as well," Hamzawy said. "The parliament lacks knowledge and administrative infrastructure needed to equip MPs with the tools needed to perform their role," he added.
The military institution
Professor of Political Economy Rabab El-Mahdy listed three other major challenges facing the new parliament.
"Getting the military institution out of the political sphere is the major obstacle facing the parliament," El-Mahdy said, adding that the military became a state within the state which contradicts with the simplest principles of democracy.
"I am confident that the new parliament has the ability to face this challenge, but does it have the will to perform this duty?" El-Mahdy asked.
Hamzawy said the parliament should be neck and neck with the military. "This is an elected body that enjoys the only legal legitimacy, which made me recommend forming a committee to negotiate with the military the steps needed to hand over power to a civilian authority," he said.
Regarding a much debated safe exit for members of the ruling military council in return to handing over power swiftly to a civilian rule, El-Mahdy said, "There is no such thing as a safe exit," citing Argentina where members of the military were tried after eight years of stepping down.
"This happened in experiences where transition to democracy took place without a revolution, but with a revolution still ongoing in the streets, the process will be faster," El-Mahdy said.
Hamzawy explained that a safe exit for the military institution as a whole is needed, but did not mention a safe exit for the members of the ruling military council.
"The military institution is deeply rooted in the Egyptian administrative system, which will take years to end. So we do not want to get the military out of the state system, but from politics," Hamzawy added.
El-Mahdy said that complete legal and political immunity for members of the ruling military council will be problematic in the short and long run, citing Chili as the only country giving complete legal immunity to the military.
"It caused a lot of problems for them," she said.
Coalitions based on political agendas
Member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and professor of Political Economy at AUC Samer Solaiman said that the parliament may represent the political sphere in Egypt, but it definitely does not represent Egypt’s society.
"Women represent 49 percent of the society and are only represented with one percent in parliament, Copts constitute more than 10 percent of the society and they only constitute one percent in parliament," Solaiman said.
Solaiman explained that the challenge of representation is the most important obstacle to create reconciliation with the parliament.
El-Mahdy disagreed, adding that problems of representation are a problem in most of established democracies.
"The most important obstacle here is the need to redefine the political map of Egypt and ending the Islamist-secular conflict that is mostly based on identity and move towards devising a new political map," El-Mahdy said.
"Coalitions inside the parliament will be dynamic and constantly changing. For example, we will see a coalition between the secular Free Egyptians Party and the Salafi Al-Nour Party, especially when it comes to their similar neoliberal economic approaches," El-Mahdy said.
Hamzawy and Solaiman agreed that the conflict will not be over the constitution, but over the legislations pertaining to personal and civic freedoms.
"There is a general consensus to make the first four articles of the old constitution to remain the same in the new constitution, which will make us avoid the anticipated debate about the second article of the constitution," Solaiman said.
Hamzawy agreed, adding that the most important battle will be over other legislations especially ones pertaining to Family Law, Personal Status Law, and laws pertaining to arts and creativity.
"This is a very important battle that we need to stress and not marginalize for the sake of other socioeconomic problems," Hamzawy added.
Hamzawy explained that forming a coalition government is most likely to happen after agreeing on a timeline for the constitution and presidential elections.
"The ball is in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party’s (FJP) court, they are the majority and they have to take the lead, the role of the other parties will be just to support, but the FJP will be at the forefront of the battle to form a coalition government," said Solaiman.