Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1314, (6 - 12 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Courting controversy

Independent MP Elhami Agina is referred to parliament’s Ethics Committee following the latest in a string of offensive remarks, reports Gamal Essam El-Din 

Al-Ahram Weekly

Comments by maverick MP Ilhami Agina left parliament and civil society organisations up in arms this week. More than 200 MPs demanded Agina be referred to the Ethics Committee, a request Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal accepted on Tuesday.

Abdel-Aal told MPs in a plenary session Tuesday morning that "after receiving such a large number of complaints I decided immediately to refer Agina to the Ethics Committee”. He promised to inform MPs of the result of the committee’s investigation as soon as a report is compiled.

Agina, an MP from the Nile-delta governorate of Daqahliya, said in a press interview last week that women who wish to enroll at university should undergo  a mandatory "virginity test".

"Universities should impose this test ahead of the new school year," said Agina The tests were necessary, he claimed, to halt the practice of orfi marriage.

Orfi marriages, based on a contract and two witnesses, are not officially registered.

"Any girl who seeks to enroll as a university student must undergo a virginity test on a regular basis," said Agina. He demanded the Minister of Higher Education issue a decree compelling female students to undergo such tests, insisting “this is an important measure to help families make sure their daughters remain virgins and behave well on campuses".

It is not the first controversial statement made by Agina. Last month he said he had voted against a new bill that made female genital mutilation (FGM) a felony, arguing FGM was necessary to balance the "weak sexual prowess" of Egyptian men.

Earlier this year Agina railed against female MPs wearing “seductive dress” inside parliament.

Agina's remarks drew furious reactions in parliament after several television channels and foreign media reported them.

During Tuesday's morning’s session Salah Hassaballah, head of the Freedom Party, accused Agina of "gravely insulting Egyptian women and harming society’s deep-rooted traditions and values”.

"Article 20 of parliament's internal bylaws are clear. MPs who issue remarks that undermine society's religious, moral, and social values should by investigated by the Ethics Committee," said Hassaballah.

The pro-government parliamentary bloc Support Egypt also condemned Agina’s remarks. MP Mona Mounir Rizk told Al-Ahram Weekly the bloc filed a complaint with Abdel-Aal on Tuesday morning demanding Agina be investigated over his repeated insults to women. The official complaint, signed by 200 MPs, accuses Agina of making “offensive remarks and statements that violate society's conservative values and direct open insults to women in Egypt, leading to the reputation of parliament being tarnished”.

"Agina's statement on virginity tests was not the first on the list of his shocking remarks," says the complaint. "He has previously accused female MPs of wearing seductive dress, rejected the new law that made genital female mutilation a felony upon the allegation that the law would cause harm to Egyptian men because they are sexually weak. He has also demanded penalties against crimes involving adultery be stiffened, claiming that Egyptian women are to blame for the proliferation of such crimes."

On the demand that women be subjected to obligatory virginity tests before being admitted to university, Support Egypt said: "This is an insult to female students and to all Egyptian families. It was made worse by the Western media covering Agina's shocking statements in a sensational way and asserting they reflect the views of the Egyptian parliament in general."

The complaint was supplemented by with documents listing all of Agina's controversial remarks.

Giza MP Mona Mounir told the Weekly that “Agina's controversial statements have caused a lot of harm to the image of Egypt's parliament".

Agina defended himself on Monday, saying that he had every right to express his opinions since freedom of speech was constitutionally guaranteed.

In response, Mounir insists "controversial issues should be discussed in a decent way”.

“MPs should exercise restraint before remarking on sensitive subjects like virginity tests”.

The Wafd Party announced Monday it too had filed a complaint against Agina.

"We have asked Agina many times to exercise more restraint. His remarks do a lot of damage to public morals and to parliament," said the Wafd Party’s parliamentary spokesman Mohamed Fouad. “It is time for Agina to be disciplined."

Rania Yehia, a leading member of Egypt's National Council for Women, says the council has also filed a complaint against Agina with Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek, requesting the MP be investigated over his "verbal assaults against women and society in Egypt".

MP Amina Nosseir, a professor of Islamic philosophy, told the Weekly that "Agina's remarks represent an insult to women and public mores in Egypt".

"I am happy that parliament has at last moved to take a stand against Agina, and I am sure that he will be disciplined. We need to stem the tide of statements that create a negative image of parliament.”

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