Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 June - 6 July 2011
Issue No. 1054
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Big demand met

Local councils are to be dismantled, reports Reem Leila

On Tuesday, judge Kamal El-Lamei, head of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC), passed a ruling dissolving all 1,760 of Egypt's local councils which were elected during the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

The dismantling of municipalities was one of the main demands of the 25 January Revolution along with the dissolution of the People's Assembly and Shura Council which happened in mid-February.

"The ruling came after a group of lawyers and protesters filed more than 10 lawsuits requesting their dismantling. After a thorough study of the case the ruling was made in favour of dissolution," El-Lamei told the press.

The revolution's youth movements, in addition to many other coalitions, have been pressing for the dissolving of the country's local councils which they say were seriously corrupt. "The revolution was never going to be complete without the dissolution of the existing corrupted municipalities and reforming the system as a whole," said Mohamed El-Qassas, a member of the executive bureau of the Revolution Youth Coalition and its media coordinator.

According to El-Qassas, in the last municipal elections in 2008, Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) won almost 99 per cent of the votes, thus leading to the blatant forgery of the 2010 parliamentary elections. "We have been pressing for their dismantling since the revolution began simply because the municipal councils' 54,000 members could provide support for members of the former regime in the forthcoming parliamentary elections," stated El-Qassas.

According to Samir Abdel-Wahab, a professor of municipalities at the Faculty of Economics in Cairo University, the court ruling could be appealed by the Ministry of Local Development. "The SAC is not authorised to issue such a ruling unless its elections were forged. This is a political ruling not a legal one," Abdel-Wahab said, arguing that "it is very difficult to dissolve local councils immediately."

Once dismantled, local administration law stipulates elections for local councils should be held within two months. Abdel-Wahab added, "the reasons for the court ruling has not been made public, so it is quite difficult to hold elections right now. Local councils will be temporarily paralysed, thus affecting services offered to the public."

When the government and the Higher Council of the Armed Forces (HCAF) enforce the ruling, the local administration law should be amended. Abdel-Wahab pointed out that the HCAF along with the government must work on finding a way out of the problem. "How will the country perform administratively in the absence of municipalities?

"Dismantling local councils ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections is something very difficult to do. How will they take place?" wondered Abdel-Wahab, who at the same time suggested the creation of new local councils whose members are to be appointed by the HCAF and the government. The new councils should last for at least one year until the parliamentary and presidential elections are held, then dissolved. "Governors should be also changed. Although the ruling is considered wrong, we cannot proceed by making further mistakes," argued Abdel-Wahab.

The local councils were widely criticised for their role in corruption in the days of Mubarak but Mustafa Abdel-Qader, former minister of local administration, stated that the general accusation that municipalities are corrupt is unfair. Municipalities, according to Abdel-Qader, were representing a corrupt regime but they themselves were not corrupt. "They did though play a big role in forging parliamentary and presidential elections."

Abdel-Qader said the government had to respect the court ruling and was obliged to implement it. "The timing of the ruling is wrong. Neither the HCAF nor the government is prepared for such a decision since they are currently in a state of confusion. For the time being, the HCAF and the government must work on changing the local administration law which was issued in 1970. There are several articles identifying the exact role of local councils, and they must be amended. Also the army along with the government must identify which body will be monitoring and supervising local administration. Will they be monitored by popular committees or another governmental body? "The government must take into consideration the upcoming elections. What will they do in this regard?" asked Abdel-Qader.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf held a meeting on Wednesday with the governors to discuss the implications of the court's ruling. Sharaf told the press that the government will abide by the court ruling, however, he added that it had yet to be decided whether local council elections will be held before parliamentary elections or after.

Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University, said the ruling came very late. "Local councils are Egypt's largest source of corruption; 98 per cent of them were dominated by former NDP officials." Local councils, Nafaa said, must be dissolved immediately and the government must draw up a schedule for elections. "There should be a clear timetable of municipalities, parliamentary and presidential elections. The government must abide by this schedule or the gap between people and the government will increase," said Nafaa.

At the same time, Nafaa said, current governors must be changed because many of them belong to the military institution, while others are university professors who served during the former regime. "We must put an end to the concept of appointing military figures as governors. When this happens, then for the first time in history Egypt will enjoy fair and clean elections," stated Nafaa.

He added young people must be elected in the municipalities in order to introduce new blood because local councils are the foundation of political life in Egypt. "When young people join these councils, this will be a step towards joining the parliament and becoming future political leaders via fair and a just electoral process," said Nafaa.

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