The Egyptian people yesterday witnessed the birth of a new parliament; this is the first parliament that truly represents the people since the 1952 military coup which consecrated the rule of dictatorship in the country. In the past, parliamentary elections were a flagrant example of despotism and autocracy, for only those either endorsed by the ruler or relying upon vote-rigging and threats could reach parliament. However Egypt’s first freely elected MPs entered parliament amidst a climate of cautiousness, concern, and happiness [yesterday]; whilst Egypt entered a new and unprecedented era. This is an era of transparency that is closer to chaos, where the Egyptian public have desires and ambitions that may prove impossible to fulfil.
The people have big ambitions, but the challenges that the country is facing are even bigger. Numerous slogans were coined during the revolution, and these were accompanied by flags and banners, which the demonstrators raised and waved when chanting their slogans in Egypt’s squares and streets. However the problem is that these slogans were extremely idealistic, but did not include any details or mechanisms of implementation. There were slogans that championed religion and the role of religion in politics, whilst other slogans praised the principles of justice, freedom, human rights and dignity. However it will be very difficult – although gratifying – to go into the details regarding how to implement these slogans in a practical manner. Rule will be administered by the constitution, whose frame of reference must be Islamic Sharia law; however we must discuss the details of this extremely carefully before any [constitutional] articles are agreed upon. In other words, the relationship between citizens, parliament, and the executive authority must be clear, in order to ensure that human rights are protected and that checks and balances are in place. This will allow the Egyptian public to punish their elected officials if their objectives and desires are not met in an accurate and honest manner.
Certain political parties desire to prove their merit and display their seriousness in order to eliminate the bad reputation that they have accumulated over the years as a result of the rumours spread about them by the previous ruling regime. However this same desire could cause these political parties to slide into acts of petty revenge. Other parties might also seek to quickly implement their own goals and objectives to benefit from the new state of affairs in Egypt as quickly as possible. However there can be no doubt that it will be extremely difficult for any consensus to be reached in the Egyptian political arena, and this may even lead to sharp divisions and extremist discourse, particularly in light of the fragile and intensely divided political climate that has ruled the scene following the ouster of Mubarak and since the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] took control of the country.
The new parliament takes the reins of power during a time when the country is expecting a number of youth organizations to take to the streets on the first anniversary of the 25 January revolution. These organizations intend to express their concerns regarding the Egyptian revolution’s failure to achieve its objective (an opinion that is not necessary held by all those who participated in the revolution). These youths believe that they are the victim of a conspiracy brewed up between the religious parties that won the parliamentary elections and SCAF to drive the revolutionary youth – and their supporters – out of the entire political scene, portraying them as a group of troublemakers, thugs and outlaws who must be punished and deterred. Some of these youth even believe that this is meant to cast doubt on their patriotism and objectives.
In the midst of this polarization, we cannot overlook the ground-breaking and unprecedented role being played by Egypt’s premier Islamic institution, Al-Azhar University. Al-Azhar put forward a political agreement which is considered to be one of the most important – and progressive – political agreements or documents in modern Islamic history. This agreement is considered to be an innovative frame of reference which addresses the mechanism of governance, parliamentary operations, human rights and elections. This agreement also provides clear answers to difficult issues such as citizenship, woman, minorities’ rights, and freedom of worship, and more. Al-Azhar is therefore drawing a clear line to counteract the attempts being made by certain parties to transgress the limits and portray themselves – with their superficial and poor knowledge of religion – as the protectors and official spokesmen of Islam. This is because the Egyptian people have a religious nature, and could potentially be impressed and won over by political parties using religion in this way.
The Egyptian people elected a parliament that is completely different to the previous one, and they are hoping that this will represent a new beginning for the country. Yet, they will not be merciful if this new parliament fails to achieve the ambitions of the people who for decades suffered from despotism, corruption and insults. The Islamic world is carefully watching what is happening in Egypt in light of the weight, significance and the enormous influence of the Egyptian experience; therefore failure will be costly whilst success will be beneficial, not just for Egypt, but the Islamic world. There can be no doubt that Egypt has changed, but we must wait and see the extent and nature of this change.
Egypt is now experiencing a state of review and appraisal, and the parliament is the major place for this. We must wait to see the result.