• 17:09
  • Friday ,02 January 2015

Egypt: Does parliament have a more important function than legislating?

By-Ziad Bahaa-Eldin



Friday ,02 January 2015

Egypt: Does parliament have a more important function than legislating?

In a press interview last Thursday December 25th with a group of parliamentary reporters, the minister of transitional justice said that the new draft investment law would be put to businessmen and investors this week so the bill could be finished by January 15 and issued prior to the economic conference due to take place next March. Nothing surprising so far. In fact, the minister was eager to apprise the public of government efforts to improve the investment climate and ensure the success of the economic conference. The surprise came when he reportedly attributed this rush to “the eagerness to complete this draft law at the current time, before it is tugged to the left or right by political wrangling in the new parliament.”

This statement gave me pause because it reflects a prevailing sentiment in official and government circles that there is still a chance to adopt important laws before the seating of the parliament, that the coming legislature is a necessary evil, and that parliamentarians are partisans of the left or right and a source of general irritation for the government, which alone is capable of getting things done were it left to work in peace. Moreover, this is a point of view of the parliament which may explain several aspects about the current political situation in Egypt:
First of all, it explains the long delay in holding parliamentary elections and the disregard for the constitutional deadline, justified alternatively by redistricting, the redrawing of governorate boundaries, and the economic conference. In fact, elections are more important and their date should have been scheduled first and then all other events, celebrations, and conferences could be planned around it. But unfortunately, the minister’s statement seems to support conspiracy theorists' view that the state is intentionally postponing the election of a parliament so it can pass whatever laws it likes without the interference or aggravation of people’s representatives.
This way of thinking also explains why officials are unconcerned by the absence of a parliament as long as the president has the authority to issue laws by decree. But in doing do they overlook that the legislative authority vested in the president by the constitution is an exceptional power to be exercised until the formation of the People’s Assembly. And as such it cannot be deemed an unlimited legislative authority while the parliament has not been elected. It also should not exceed the bounds of necessity. Moreover, as an exceptional power, laws issued by the president should be preceded and accompanied by a society-wide dialogue among political, civic, and union organizations, in order to compensate even slightly for the lack of parliamentary debate. But the surprise adoption of a raft of laws, justified by the absence of parliament, contravenes the spirit of the constitution and the reasoning behind this legislative mandate. Nor is it enough to rely on the constitutional provision that gives the incoming parliament 15 days to review all laws issued in its absence. In this period, parliamentarians will also be occupied taking the oath of office, electing the speaker and deputies, forming committees and electing their chairs, forming parliamentary bodies and selecting their spokespeople, and finding chambers, seats, cafeterias, and parking spaces.
Finally, this view of parliament explains the state’s insistence on holding elections under the flawed winner-take-all list system. It reflects a belief that candidates running as individuals are captured by special interests and should not truly participate in legislating, managing committees, or overseeing the executive, and that parties cannot act responsibly and support the government in these difficult circumstances. Hence the need to rely on the bloc of 120 parliamentarians elected from the winning list; they will meet the conditions of patriotism, seriousness, and preferably loyalty to the regime, and can thus run the assembly, keep it in line, and control its performance.
The minister’s statement itself is not important—it might have been a slip of the tongue or a lapse. What matters is understanding the state and public’s view of the coming parliament. We must admit that past parliaments in Egypt have been disappointing, and that we have a long road ahead to shape a legacy in which representatives give voice to the public interest rather than the families that elected them and are able to confront government excesses and breaches with argument, evidence, and reason rather than shouts, threats, and extortion.
But we must also recognize that we reached this regrettable point not due to some vice specific to Egyptians but because of past election rigging, government interference, flawed laws, the sidelining of parliament, unlawful campaign financing, the exploitation of religious platforms, and attempts to turn parliament into a rubber stamp for government policies. All of this has brought us to the current juncture. And if the state again seeks to sideline, control, or circumvent parliament, the outcome will undoubtedly be the same.