It is incredible to see the media and public up in arms following leaks that pricey armoured cars are about to be purchased to protect the speaker of the assembly, while hardly anyone cares about the serious constitutional violations made by the assembly since it convened, which have undermined its effectiveness far more than such ostentatious spending.
Yes, the car deal is outrageous, especially given current economic conditions. Even more outrageous is the speaker declaring the parliamentary budget a matter of national security and therefore confidential. The parliament’s expenses must be a model of transparency and integrity, particularly because it is supposed to exercise oversight of the government and to hold it accountable.
Even so, the armoured car issue pales in comparison to the constitutional violations committed, and still underway, in the halls of parliament. The government, for example, did not put the $12-billion IMF loan to the House, though Egypt has already received the first tranche of the loan. The NGO law that the House approved two months ago has disappeared without explanation, and the House is not doing its duty to monitor state megaprojects.
It opened its first session by rubber-stamping 340 laws in a matter of days without significant debate, and it remains silent about increasing public debt, foreign and domestic, as if it’s another country’s affair. More recently it has flouted a ruling issued by the Court of Cassation affirming the membership of Dr. Amr Shobki. And these are just a few examples.
But they aren’t minor infractions to be passed over in silence or procedural irregularities that can later be remedied. They demonstrate utter contempt for the House’s independence, integrity, and constitutional status. And the public’s silence isn’t, I think, due to fear or distraction. It is silent because the House has lost much of its credibility, effectiveness, and even legitimacy as a result of its dereliction of duty, the state’s indifference to it, and the public’s disinterest in the issues it debates. People no longer expect the House to act seriously or decisively.
This is dangerous because it leads people to accept that parliament is marginal, subordinate to the state, and occupied with trivial matters. After a while, no one will expect it to have any influence or import.
I say this with the utmost respect for those parliamentarians, whether independents or partisans, who in this hostile climate insist on assuming their legislative and oversight responsibilities, voicing the demands of their constituents, and respecting the job they were elected to do. While a minority, their principled stances, insistence on the truth, and steadfastness before attempts to mock or intimidate them mean their voices are louder and more expressive than the whisper of MPs who are scared, reluctant, or satisfied with the state’s approval and protection.
From the beginning, the state insisted on parliamentary elections using the closed-list system—unique the world over—to guarantee a fragmented, weak parliament. But we all wrong ourselves, our society, and our constitution when we go along with the prevailing disdain and disregard for the parliament and its role. That only allows further indifference to the constitution and immunises the state against oversight.
We must reject and resist this mindset, even if parliamentarians themselves are derelict.
More important than anger at the armored car deal is anger at the decline of the parliament. This anger should be the beginning of a course correction and more pressure on parliamentarians to assume their responsibilities, instead of meekly accepting weakness, marginality, and ineffectiveness.
*The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investment.
A version of this article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Monday,6 February.