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Egypt's New Parliamentary Politics

Workshop Summary
Chatham House, March 2012

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This is a summary of discussions that took place at a workshop held in Cairo in March 2012, bringing together a diverse group of political party representatives, activists, academics, business people, NGO representatives, and journalists. The discussion focused on the capacity, transparency and representativeness of the new parliament.

Project: Egypt in Transition


Executive Summary

Key findings from this workshop included:

The effectiveness of parliament

  • Questions persist over the representative nature of the new parliament. MPs must work on behalf of all those they represent and not simply those who voted for them.
  • The lack of transparency in parliamentary activities, especially those of committees, is cause for concern. There is a pressing need for parliament to establish better channels of communication between itself and the electorate, both on an individual and an institutional level.
  • Civil society is a legitimate channel through which legislation can be proposed or drafted. In the absence of adequate research facilities within parliament, many NGOs and law firms remain willing to offer a level of technical expertise that most parliamentarians lack.
  • The military continue to exert an inhibiting influence over the legislative process. This will continue to be the case until they have fully withdrawn from political life.

The new coalition politics

  • There is broad support for a national unity government. This reflects acceptance that the challenges facing the new executive will be too great for a single party to tackle alone.
  • Elite cross-ideological coalitions will be unsuccessful without a grassroots support base.
  • Coalition politics is a new and emerging form of political expression in Egypt. It is therefore difficult to predict its success in advance. 

Parliament and the constitution

  • The new constitution will be a document that is concerned with the rights and responsibilities of all citizens, and the drafting process should reflect this.
  • The constitution's drafters must weigh the importance of protecting minority rights with the need to protect the rights of the individual. The right to define as 'nothing' is as important to the right to define as 'something'.
  • Defining the military's role within the wider Egyptian state is viewed as a constitutional priority.
  • It is likely that the new constitution will closely resemble the 1971 incarnation. There is a pressing need for a public debate over the strengths and weaknesses of this document.

Parliament and the street

  • Mutual distrust between parliament and the street is a key concern during the transitional period. There is an urgent need for the establishment of trust-building mechanisms that allow parliament to engage with disaffected protesters.
  • Parliamentary access remains limited for many groups, exacerbating levels of suspicion. Access must be opened to a range of stakeholders in order to increase trust and transparency.
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