Public distrust of Egyptian MPs could carry serious implications

Some citizens believe that lawmakers are in the legislature not to please or defend their constituents but to defend those in power.
Sunday 16/02/2020
Egyptian MPs vote, during a parliamentary session in Cairo, on proposed constitutional amendments, last April. (DPA)
Not just raising hands. Egyptian MPs vote, during a parliamentary session in Cairo, on proposed constitutional amendments, last April. (DPA)

CAIRO - Having followed the performance of the representatives of his constituency in the parliament for years, Mohamed Sedki, a civil servant in his late 40s, said he decided not to vote for the same representatives again in the next election.

"Sorry to say, some members of parliament are in the legislature to serve their own interests only," Sedki said. "We pinned a lot of hope on them but they betrayed all these hopes."

Sedki's view is an indication of the desperation of many Egyptians with parliament.

The 596-member legislature was elected in 2015 at a time of extreme polarisation. Egypt was just out of the rule of a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president, battling terrorism and experimenting with a new constitution that gave unprecedented powers to lawmakers.

The political parties were on their deathbed and most of those elected ran as independents and promised to mind the interests of voters, not people in power.

There is no way to accurately assess the overall approval rating of parliament. However, opinions of people such as Sedki give insights into how the public views their lawmakers and the legislature.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel A'al expressed the public’s desperation with parliament on February 11 when he asked lawmakers to carry out their supervisory duties and respect their constituents.

"Sorry to say, some government officials and ministers refuse to be questioned by the MPs," Abdel A'al said. "The MPs have to blame themselves for this."

He said most MPs forget their constituents on numerous occasions but pointed out: "You will return to the voters in a few months' time. Your success in deceiving them once does not mean that you will deceive them all through."

The failure of the MPs to protect the public interest, especially in tax laws and other aspects of day-to-day life, has been a sore point. Parliament has not stopped plans to slash subsidies, raise fees the government charges citizens for services and specify budgets for education and health.

The MPs have failed to prevent the muzzling of the media, defend the right to stage peaceful assemblies or rescue those in jail only because they criticised the authorities on Twitter or Facebook.

The view among some citizens is that the lawmakers are in the legislature not to please or defend their constituents but to defend those in power.

"Most of the MPs do nothing but defend the government instead of bringing it to account," Sedki said.

This is giving rise to fears that the next elections could result in radical political changes in Egypt.

Over the past ten years, Egypt has changed its political skin, with the collapse of political Islam that had masqueraded as a viable alternative to former President Hosni Mubarak and his one-time ruling National Democratic Party.

Mubarak's downfall in 2011 ended an important chapter in Egypt's political life, ending control imposed by his party and entourage of business moguls.

The military is running Egypt’s affairs from behind the scenes, as it had in the previous seven decades but the corrupt capitalism that used to be in control under Mubarak is over. The Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, are over, too.

However, with the parliament failing to maintain public support, the same forces stand a good chance of returning to the political scene, even as some political analysts rule this out.

"The fact is that the election laws do not allow the members of Islamist parties to seek candidacy," said political science researcher Ammar Ali Hassan.

If this is true, the members of the nation's Salafist parties will not be able to run in the elections. The Salafist parties fielded candidates in the 2015 elections and some of them won seats.

Public wistfulness for Mubarak's days, because of skyrocketing commodity prices, makes the return of politicians from his era to the political stage possible.

On February 12, one of these politicians won a by-election in one of the constituencies of Giza province by a landslide.

MP Sami Ramadan described as "normal" disapproval by constituents of some MPs.

"You cannot please everybody," Ramadan said. "I have carried out my duty as an MP and feel satisfied with the performance of the parliament."