Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1315, (13 -19 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Parliamentary resort

More than 1,000 parliamentarians gather in Sharm El-Sheikh to mark Egypt’s 150 anniversary of parliamentary life, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh hosted more than 1,200 parliamentarians drawn from 48 national parliaments to mark the 150th anniversary of Egypt’s first parliament.

The celebration was attended by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. In a speech on Sunday morning he told the assembled dignitaries that parliament had always reflected political, economic and social developments in Egypt.

“Egypt’s first parliament which was elected in the middle of the 19th century, comprised just 76 deputies. The current chamber has 596 MPs,” said Al-Sisi. “While the first parliament was consultative under the 2014 constitution, the current chamber exercises unprecedented powers.”

Egypt’s long parliamentary history, he added, reflects the development of political parties and illustrates “the maturity of the country’s political experience”.

Al-Sisi argued that parliamentary elections in 2015 were a harbinger of a new era in the nation’s political life.

“The 2015 election resulted in a parliament that represents most sectors of Egyptian society. Young members exceed more than 40 per cent of the total. There are more women MPs than ever before, and for the first time in the country’s parliament history Egyptian expatriates and the physically challenged were able to elect their own deputies,” said Al-Sisi.

“The current parliament reflects the diversity of political life in Egypt and guarantees that all sectors of society have a say in the decision-making process. MPs enjoy unprecedented powers in terms of legislation, supervision and review of the state’s annual budget and development plans.”

Al-Sisi used the occasion to warn of the economic and political challenges ahead.

“Parliament has a major role to play in facing up to these challenges. MPs have to take the decisions necessary to achieve economic goals and guarantee national security. They have to prioritise support for the education and health sectors, improve the living conditions of those on limited incomes and work to promote social justice.”

In a long speech House of Representatives’ Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal urged foreign parliamentarians to adopt new legislative measures to fight terrorism and “in doing so strike a balance between security measures and personal freedoms”.

He criticised “foreign states and powers which seek to achieve their own interests by interfering in the internal affairs of the Middle East” and said that instead there should be “serious dialogue among these powers to bring peace and stability to our region”.

Abdel-Aal asked MPs attending the event to defend the sovereignty of nations against foreign intervention and to work towards democratising international relations, to promote respect for international legitimacy and reject double standards.

Abdel-Aal heaped praise on the 2014 constitution “which has put Egypt back on the road to democracy and stability, opposes the mixing of religion with politics and is a bulwark against attempts to turn Egypt into a sectarian state”.

Abdel-Aal also told parliamentarians that the current parliament, which began sitting on 10 January, is the most empowered and diverse in Egypt’s history. He boasted that it includes 60 MPs under 35 and 120 aged between 36 and 45.

“Some of these now work as assistants to cabinet ministers and provincial governors,” he said.

Abdel-Aal also provided attendees with a brief outline of Egypt’s parliamentary history.

“In 1919 Egypt’s great national revolution erupted, with citizens raising the slogans of independence, freedom, and the creation of a sound parliamentary life. As a result the 1923 liberal constitution was issued, ushering in a two house parliamentary system.”

Egypt returned to a single chamber system in the early 1950s.

“This lasted from 1957 until 1980 when a second chamber, the Shura Council, was created. Then, following the evolutions of 2011 and 2013, a new constitution was approved in by public referendum on 18 January 2014 and a new parliament, the House of Representatives, was elected in 2015.”

“The 2014 constitution seeks to establish a modern democratic state based on pluralism, the rejection of sectarianism, a state that does not infringe on individual rights and defends the independence of the judiciary,” said Abdel-Aal.

Head of the Arab Parliamentary Union Ahmed Al-Garawan, speaker of the Pan African Parliament Roger Nkodo Dang, and Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union Martin Chungong also delivered speeches highlighting Egypt’s rich parliamentary history.

The British House of Commons was the only parliament in Western Europe that sent a delegation to the Sharm El-Sheikh event. Gerald Howarth, head of the UK parliamentary delegation and of the Egyptian-British Friendship Association, used a press conference on Sunday to underline the strength of bilateral political and economic relations.

“I know that Egypt has high hopes that direct flights between the UK and Sharm El-Sheikh will recommence very soon,” said Howarth. “Former UK prime minister David Cameron’s decision last year to suspend these flights should not be viewed as a punishment. Officials from the British government and the Ministry of Transport have reached an advanced stage in vetting security measures at Sharm El-Sheikh Airport and I hope that traffic will be back to normal after I talk with British Prime Minister Teresa May.”

Howarth said a security alert issued by the British Embassy in Cairo on Saturday warning British citizens to avoid large gatherings and crowded places on 9 October “would not have changed my decision to come to Sharm El-Sheikh”.

On Monday Prime Minister Sherif Ismail criticised security alerts issued by the US, British, Canadian and Australian embassies on Saturday.

“These alerts have a negative impact on the flow of tourist traffic into Egypt.  I think the success of the Sharm El-Sheikh celebration is a good response to these warnings,” said Ismail. “We chose Sharm El-Sheikh as the venue for this parliamentary celebration in order to show the world it is a safe place and ready to receive all kinds of tourists.”

On Monday the Arab Parliamentary Union (APU) and the Pan-African Parliament held a joint session in the Red Sea resort. APU head Ahmed Al-Garawan said the joint session was part of the process of cementing relations between African and Arab countries at all levels.

The Pan-African Parliament will hold its own conference in Sharm El-Sheikh between 10 and 21 October.

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