Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 January 2006
Issue No. 776
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Parliamentary tactics

With the beneficiaries of the elections clear, now comes the decision, on the part of the dominant forces, as to which track to follow, writes Amin Howeidy*

The elections ended with some parties losing and others winning as expected. Some roughing up has taken place, also as expected. We're only human after all. And people tend to play dirty when they're desperate. Those who laugh last laugh best, one may say. I am not suggesting that everything is fine and dandy. I know that many among you object to the way the elections were conducted, on moral, constitutional, or religious grounds. Admittedly, it wasn't a pretty scene. It was rather Machiavellian, if you ask me. This is why we need good laws, and good people to implement them.

The parliamentary scene is rather curious. About 60 independent candidates decided to join the National Democratic Party (NDP) once the festivities were over, which some would say is unconstitutional. The new parliament, therefore, is subject to credible lawsuits, as the candidates have misrepresented their allegiances. The NDP has won 20 per cent of the vote, the opposition about 30 per cent, and the rest went to the independents. Of the 32 million registered voters, only seven million showed up at the polling stations. Who exactly is to blame?

Once the dust settled, the NDP ended up with a comfortable majority, enough to make policy even in the face of significant opposition. Supposedly, worker and peasant candidates are to stand up for the rights of workers and peasants. This does not seem to be happening anymore. This is why privatisation is going on unabated. If you ask me, the parliament does not seem to be in control of much. It doesn't engage in genuine oversight. What happened exactly to our checks and balances? I don't see much accountability going on. The government is controlling the parliament, not the other way around.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has 88 members in the parliament. Curiously enough, it is still a banned movement. This is a victory that brings the MB into the limelight. But hold on for a second. Here we have a movement that by all means is powerful, and yet we call it banned. Are we planning to rectify that situation? The MB supreme guide said he will not form a party so long as the Parties Committee remains in existence. The Parties Committee, you all know, is the one authority entitled to sanction the formation of new parties. The MB, by virtue of its electoral win, does not need that kind of acknowledgement. So what do we plan to do about it?

The MB has one of three choices. Either it toes the government line, or starts a pitched battle with the majority party, or engages in skirmishes in the parliament while strengthening its position outside.

The first option, that of toeing the government line, is out of the question. The MB knows that the NDP is bent on monopolising power, even though it is willing to bring in new faces on occasion. And the NDP knows that the MB wants to take power. The chance for reconciliation between the MB and the NDP is rather slim.

The second option, of a pitched battle with the government, doesn't seem good either. The MB style is one of caution and perseverance. The MB has gotten a foothold in the parliament, and it wants to consolidate it for now. At a later stage, it may consider making more decisive inroads.

That leaves us with the third option, of initiating frequent skirmishes in the parliament. The MB needs time to consolidate its position. It wants to turn its parliamentary victory into public status. At a dinner reception the MB held recently at the InterContinental Hotel, Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef urged parliamentarians to limit the power of the president, abrogate ill-reputed laws, and fight poverty. But according to Essam El-Eryan, member of the MB Political Bureau, the MB political programme focuses on the organisational and educational aspects. The MB seeks to educate the public on moral issues, enhance Muslim awareness, reform government, and then move on to bigger things, such as establishing an international entity combining all Muslim people. How true is any of this? There is no way of knowing. For the time being, the MB seems to be focussing on unionist, educational and religious matters.

What about the NDP? It seems to me that the NDP has three options. One is to try to form a broader front with the MB, the independents, and the opposition, so as to gain support for its programme. Another is to engage in constructive rivalry and put together a code of honour binding on all parties. The third option, which I don't advise, is to use heavy-handed tactics and abuse its extraordinary powers. The NDP should keep the dialogue going, for this is what the nation needs. Anything else would be disruptive and irresponsible to say the least.

* The writer is former minister of defence and chief of General Intelligence.

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