Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website

Tue109 2018

Last update19:14 PM GMT

Back to Homepage
Font Size : 12 point 14 point 16 point 18 point
:: Archive > Parliament News
EGYPT: Opposition Turns Up Heat in Parliament
EGYPT: Opposition Turns Up Heat in Parliament
Ever since the hotly contested 2005 legislative elections, the opposition in Egypt’s parliament has become increasingly assertive. This year, opposition and independent MPs have hurled a record number of interpellations -- inquiries that must be answered by the government -- at the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak.
Thursday, January 31,2008 19:51
by Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani IPS
Ever since the hotly contested 2005 legislative elections, the opposition in Egypt"s parliament has become increasingly assertive. This year, opposition and independent MPs have hurled a record number of interpellations -- inquiries that must be answered by the government -- at the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak.

"The unprecedented number of opposition representatives in the current parliament means the government can be challenged more than before," Hamdi Hassan, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood MP, told IPS.

In late 2005, surprise electoral victories by the Muslim Brotherhood markedly altered the legislative body"s composition.

Despite widespread voting manipulation by the ruling party, the Islamist group captured 88 of the assembly"s 444 seats. Along with seven representatives from secular opposition parties and a handful of non-NDP independents, the overall size of the opposition bloc in parliament reached over 100 seats -- up from a mere 25 in the previous assembly.

"The current parliament has the largest opposition bloc since 1976, when (late president Anwar) Sadat established a multi-party political system," Amr Hashem Rabia, expert in parliamentary affairs at the government-run al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, told IPS.

Despite these gains by the opposition, the ruling party retained more than the two-thirds majority -- by a comfortable margin -- needed to ensure its continued control over legislation.

Nevertheless, analysts say that the higher proportion of seats held by non-NDP representatives has emboldened the opposition to at least make itself heard. As an indication of this newfound assertiveness, they point to the rising number of parliamentary interpellations levelled by opposition and independent MPs within the last two years.

According to official figures, the total number of interpellations has risen from 16 in the 2005/2006 parliamentary year to 28 in 2006/2007. The trend has continued this year, with the number of interpellations reaching an all-time high of 121 since the start of the current parliamentary year in November.

Under the terms of the Egyptian constitution, members of parliament have the right to challenge government officials with interpellations in front of the assembly. Once the issue in question is debated, MPs can then theoretically vote to withdraw confidence in the government.

In the last three months, opposition MPs have levelled interpellations on a wide range of topics, from official corruption to government misuse of foreign loans. One interpellation sought to clarify allegations that the tourism ministry had sold land in Egypt"s Sinai Peninsula to Israeli investors -- a charge which, given historical animosities, carries serious political implications.

Interpellations have also been used to challenge the "neo-liberal" economic policies espoused by influential business magnates in the ruling party. In this regard, opposition MPs levelled inquiries about the future of the national subsidy system, the government"s prevailing privatisation policies, and rising inflation and poverty levels.

So far, only about half of the interpellations have been answered by relevant government officials. Nevertheless, according to Rabia, the new dynamic in parliament has brought at least a degree of serious debate to the long-moribund assembly.

"There"s no denying that the larger opposition presence in parliament has had positive effects," he said. "At the very least, it has succeeded in embarrassing the government on a number of issues."

However, Rabia added, the Brotherhood-heavy opposition bloc -- still less than one quarter of the total assembly -- remains too weak to effect change vis-à-vis legislation.

"In terms of actual lawmaking, the ruling party remains untouchable," he said. "For example, parliament can never take any serious steps against existing monopolies in the market because the NDP majority remains under the control of businessmen who will protect their own interests."

Opposition figures reply to this by saying that the ruling party -- even if it still controls legislation -- must now at least take steps to explain itself to increasingly vocal critics in parliament.

"Of course the government will ultimately do what it wants," said the Muslim Brotherhood"s Hassan. "But the stronger opposition presence has put the NDP on the spot and forced it to moderate its behaviour.

"If we didn"t make such a commotion in parliament, the situation -- the unaccountability -- would be much worse," he added. "And because we have expressed our opposition to government policy in an objective manner, we"ve gained many new supporters."

Hassan went on to point out that, shortly after the Islamist group"s electoral victories two years ago, the government stopped airing live parliamentary sessions on state television.

"This is because the government fears the rising popularity of an opposition that actively challenges the ruling party," he said.

Despite these limited gains, though, Rabia predicted that the parliamentary opposition would remain powerless to affect real, legislative change in the absence of far-reaching reform of Egypt"s entire political system.

"First there must be a degree of equilibrium between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government," he said. "Only then can there be a strong parliament, truly capable of challenging the status quo."

Posted in Parliament News , Reports  
Add Comment Send to Friend Print
Related Articles