Saturday,24 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)
Saturday,24 February, 2018
Issue 1288, (24 - 30 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

A parliament of chaos

Mona El-Nahhas reports on the possibility of dissolving the two-month-old parliament

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Lack of discipline, verbal clashes and physical fights have characterised Egypt’s 2016 parliament since its launch in January.

Starting from its first procedural session on 10 January, when most MPs showed a distinct callousness when taking the constitutional oath, parliament has been on the receiving end of jokes and sarcasm, in Egypt and abroad.

Instead of focussing on issues of public interest, parliamentary members have been engaged in other matters, giving the impression that it is failing to represent the people who voted them into office.

The poor performance of MPs at the opening session was the main reason behind a decree banning live TV broadcasts of parliamentary sessions. “We have the right to know what happens in parliament,” Mahmoud Mustafa, a middle-aged taxi driver, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

 The creation of the parliament concluded the three-part roadmap of the government following the drafting of a new constitution and presidential elections. Many observers say the parliament, whose formation was delayed several times, was meant mainly to lend the regime international legitimacy and to act as a tool in the hands of the executive authority.

The parliament, in less than two weeks, endorsed more than 300 laws that were passed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and former president Adli Mansour in the period following the dissolution of the Islamist-controlled parliament in 2013. Still outstanding is the civil service law.

News of members hitting each other with shoes, attacking parliamentary correspondents, forging their academic certificates and facing charges of commercial fraud has become standard fare and no longer appears to surprise the public.

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal has repeatedly warned MPs that if they don’t shape up they should soon expect a decree dissolving parliament. Sessions during which parliamentary bylaws were discussed were chaotic. Abdel-Aal himself has been criticised for being biased in running the sessions, including the case of appointed MP Judge Serri Seyam, who was forced to submit his resignation in early February.

The weak performance of most MPs is not the only factor that threatens the parliament’s credibility in the public’s eye. Appeals contesting the authenticity of the membership of around 220 MPs are now being heard at the Court of Cassation.

“The parliament, with such miserable practices, has heavily burdened the regime,” Youssri Al-Azabawi, chairman of the elections forum at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told the Weekly. According to Article 137 of the 2014 Constitution, if there is “caused necessity”, the president has the right to hold a public referendum on dissolving parliament.

“I don’t think the public will be very shocked if that happens,” Al-Azabawi said. “Until now, parliament has not come close to any legislation that concerns the public.” He added that parliament has neglected its original mission and become entangled in battles and clashes.

According to Al-Azabawi, the parliament in its current form will not last long. “Both the public and intellectuals have the feeling that this parliament is going to be dissolved sooner or later.”

The constitution stipulates two other situations in which parliament can be dissolved. Article 146 notes that if parliament fails to form a cabinet after rejecting a cabinet suggested by the president it should be dissolved. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail’s cabinet is expected to present its statement in parliament on 27 March after a limited ministerial reshuffle late this week.

Article 161 considers parliament dissolved if the public turns down a parliamentary request for withdrawing confidence from the president and holding early presidential polls.

The two scenarios are a remote possibility, given a parliament that has avoided from the start clashing with the executive authority. However, parliament would be dissolved the moment the Supreme Constitutional Court rules that any article of three laws that regulate the parliamentary polls is unconstitutional: the House of Representatives Law, Practice of Political Rights Law and Distribution of Electoral Constituencies Law. The unconstitutionality of laws regulating parliamentary polls dissolved the parliaments of 1984, 1987, 1990 and 2012.

Recognising the danger that parliament could be dissolved, MP Anwar Al-Sadat hurried last month to submit an amendment to Article 49 of the law of the Supreme Constitutional Court, which regulates the direct effect of court rulings. The amendment, Al-Sadat said, would immunise parliament from being dissolved should a ruling by the SCC labelling any of the three election laws be deemed unconstitutional. Al-Sadat said the amendment will be introduced after consulting the SCC general assembly.

“It is unacceptable to dissolve a parliament elected by Egyptians for a reason nobody is responsible for,” Al-Sadat said in a press release following the submission of his amendment in mid-February. “The recurrence of such scenarios would frustrate the public and waste of billions of pounds spent by the state on running the polls,” he added.

Commenting on the step taken by Al-Sadat, legal expert Nour Farahat said it is illegal to introduce amendments to the SCC law before asking the court for its opinion, noting, “We do not have the luxury of any political upheaval at this time.”

Constitutional expert Noureddin Ali was quoted as saying that parliament should not protect itself in this way. “The SCC may rule that the amendment of its article is unconstitutional, bringing the whole issue back to square one,” he said.

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