A storm under the dome

Maasoum Marzouk
Thursday 18 Dec 2014

Egypt's coming parliament will bear a heavy responsibility, above all in being a role model of political life. Thus we should ensure the conditions of its success now, including the law governing its election

There is an old saying: "They thought that under the dome there was a sheikh (an expert or scholar)." It is an expression of bankruptcy, helplessness and lack of means. The saying makes one ponder on the next House of Representatives and the capabilities of those who will be elected to it.

Everyone caring about the future of this country must join those who demand the re-examination of the parliamentary elections law, which permits in its present state political money dominating a wide area and leads practically to the death of political parties. It is unjustified to respond that these parties are weak, because treating the patient does not mean that we should remove the respirators and leave him to die, especially when all of us know that these parties were seeds in a dry land lean for so many years. This may necessitate, in proposed modifications, criteria regarding the financing of parties. Without political parties there will not be pluralism and without pluralism there will not be democracy.

Ahead of new parliamentary elections, several issues have come to the fore, including the relationship between the president and the parliament, suggestions to modify the constitution, whose ink did not yet dry, to increase the powers of the president against those of parliament, women's representation, the role of the religious current, etc. We can expect to see heated arguments between parliamentary representatives and ministers. By all means these duels should be broadcast, as a contribution in raising people's awareness and activating popular censure. Without going into details, the coming period is the most dangerous in terms of the democratic development Egypt is witnessing. Therefore, we should keep a tight grip on it, accompanied with fine tuning, and the right framing for political practice.

For example, some sessions in the People's Assembly in times of old witnessed exchanges of insults, which is not appropriate to the dignified presence of those sitting under the parliament's dome, whether government members or members of parliament. Some may say that this happens (and worse) in older parliaments, and that in some, boxing matches, or even firing bullets, have been witnessed. However, this should not be an excuse, because we aspire that our parliament be an open university in which Egyptians learn about the role of parties and political elites. We want exemplary models for our sons, and because TV sets are in every home it is an opportunity we should grab.

We want the new representative who raises an issue to be armed with documents, clear arguments, sound words and strong rationales, for he is a lawyer who has power of attorney from the people, and this is a great honour. It is the same thing we ask from the government. Politics should not be a brawl between two parties, or a show of high pitched voices or muscles, or the tickling of people's desires. It is a persistent attempt from both parties to reach the truth in a cooperation that will not be shattered by grudge and hatred — a mutual commitment to have moral courage to acknowledge the other party's sound standpoint. In the end, both sides work for the people's interest, a higher interest, and for the sake of the country and for a better tomorrow.

There is also a responsibility that lies on the shoulders of every individual among the people everywhere; they have to monitor their parliamentary representatives closely, hold them accountable in a profound way, shower them with letters and demand their presence in regular meetings with their constituencies. Moreover, the phenomenon of MPs surrounding ministers asking for personal requests or exceptions should vanish. Ministers should have parliamentary agents who work as liaison officers with the people's deputies through the offices of those deputies, because the representative should dissociate himself and his constituency from such scenes.

While not wanting to exaggerate any optimism, we should not amplify any pessimism. Perhaps the volume of challenges that Egypt faces is great and complicated in a way that spreads despair and frustration. Perhaps some became professional in fishing in troubled waters. However, it would be an achievement if a healthy climate for democratic practices became widespread, upon which we could build, because it would mean real participation in shouldering responsibility, and playing a role in decision-making.

We want to be sure that under the parliament's dome there are sheikhs who are the nation's fathers, who monitor objectively and impartially, legislate accurately and in an accountable way, and be in every word and deed a role model for the nation's youth. We want to turn a new page after others we turned by trial and error — a page on which we will write in a modern tempo on a nation's horizons widened, where everybody’s capacity for dialogue is enhanced, for all of us are in the same boat even if our positions in it are different. All of us yearn to reach safe shores amid an ocean of storms and tempests. May the next wind under the parliament's dome be a fair wind that lead us to the Egypt we aspire to.


The writer is former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister.

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