Blow by blow: The People’s Assembly’s first day

Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliament convened on Monday at 11 am. It was presided over by the oldest MP, Mahmoud Al-Saqqa (81 years old) of the Wafd Party. Saqqa began the first procedural meeting with words describing the session as “historic” and requested that MPs stand in silent prayer for the souls of the martyrs of the 25 January revolution. One MP appeared to be voicing an objection but his voice was inaudible. “The blood of the martyrs brought freedom and dignity to all Egyptians,” proclaimed Saqqa.

On either side of Saqqa sat the youngest MPs: Wafd's SCAF-appointed Marian Malak, and elected Nour Party MP Mahmoud Hamdy.

SCAF decrees ordering the parliament to convene, and statements by the Supreme Electoral Committee on election results, were read.

Saqqa described MPs appointed by the head of the SCAF Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi as “the promised ten,” alluding to a Hadith by the prophet Mohamad in which he specified ten of his companions and declared they would go to paradise. SCAF-appointed MP Omar Abdel-Gelil did not like the comment. Prior to pronouncing the oath, he told Saqqa, “We reject this sarcasm or any claim that our presence here is illegal.”

Saqqa praised the judiciary for fulfilling its task during the elections, a remark that was met by applause. When he lauded the ruling SCAF for “its role during and after the revolution,” applause followed once more. “Your turn will come to serve this country” he added, addressing the MPs.

Several MPs—mainly non-Islamist—wore yellow sashes marking their protest against SCAF's decision to subject civilians to military trials. One Coptic parliamentarian held a small Egyptian flag.

The acting parliament speaker was the first to take the oath: “I pledge to preserve the security of the homeland and the republican order, to observe the interests of the people and to respect the Constitution and the laws,” followed by the two MPs sitting on his sides. The remaining 507 parliamentarians were subsequently named one by one to take the oath.

The phrasing of the oath became subject of controversy when MP Mahmoud Ismail, of the Salafi-oriented Asala  Party, added his own words to the vow “so long as it does not conflict with God's law,” prompting the speaker to tell him to repeat it without the addition. Ismail replied that the acting speaker “did not respect the text” when he dubbed the ten appointees the “promised 10,” and his words found a wave of applause.

Another MP interrupted, objecting that it had not yet been decided whether Egypt's political system would be parliamentarian or “republican” (he meant presidential) or “mixed.” Saqqa objected to the remark, saying that according to Article 56 of the Assembly's code, parliamentarians cannot debate any issues until a speaker is elected.

“We’ll have plenty of time to discuss issues; you have years and years ahead of you,” Saqqa told the objecting parliamentarian. Ismail reiterated the oath, this time adding the words “and my comment is” before uttering the same addition.

A dozen of subsequent oaths followed suit; in some instances, “allegiance to the blood of the martyrs” or “vowing to fulfill the revolution's goals” was added by non-Islamist parliamentarians to the standard oath.

Saqqa objected several times and begged parliamentarians to abide by the legal text. In one instance, Saqqa said angrily to a Salafi MP, “Read the second clause of the Constitution and you will find the answer to what you are asking for.” The words were followed by applause.

He subsequently gave up, as the Salafis' deviation became a trend. At least 25 MPs added the same objection: “If (the Constitution and the laws) do not conflict with God's doctrine.” Their attempts to include the addition were thwarted by the interruption of each parliamentarian's microphone as they pronounced the last word of the standard oath. As a result, several parliamentarians put their personal additions at the beginning of the oath. MP Ziad el Elaimy of the Egyptian Social Democratic party stated: “I vow to complete the 25 January revolution and to stay loyal to the blood of the martyrs” before he read the official oath. His words were met with applause. Mostafa Al-Naggar of Adl party justified a similar addition: “If the rule is violated you may not stop subsequent violations,” he said, before pronouncing the oath addressing the speaker.

Other personal additions included religious introductions saluting the prophet and his companions, or pronouncements such as “I refuse anything that contradicts God's doctrine,” or “For the sake of a democratic, modern and civil Egypt,” “as much as I can,” or “In the name of the one God that we all worship,” as a non-Islamist MP said in what seemed a retort to the Salafi additions.

Two MPs, rather than deviate from the standard oath, chose to carry signs to make their additions. Abdel Moneim al-Sawy of the Civilization Party carried a paper that said: “Fulfilling the goals of the revolution and holding accountable those who attacked the protesters.” Mahmoud Ashmawy, Assiut-elected Nour Party MP, carried a banner that read “Revolution martyrs, thank you! We won’t sell your blood”.

Ashmawy later told Egypt News Network that the other side read “Down with military rule!” but that the camera had turned away when he reversed it. Saqqa rebuked him: “What do you think you're doing? We don't want anything to tarnish the glory of this newborn parliament!” Applause followed.

Some Parliamentarians also clapped to the oath of Mohamed Saad al-Katatny, former secretary-general of Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), who was to be elected speaker of parliament later in the session.

Appointed MPs were the last to take the oaths, two of which wore the “No to military trials” yellow sashes. Those MPs were Hanna Greis and George Nagui Messiha.

Following the swearing-in, Saqqa announced that added phrases would be omitted from the minutes of the session. He also took the time to explain the importance of wording the standard oath.

Saqqa then laid down the regulations for the election of the Parliament speaker. When Katatny announced his desire to run for the speaker's post, his words were met with a long applause. Independent MP Youssef al-Badry, the Egyptian Bloc's Magdi Sabry and the Wasat Party's Essam Sultan also ran for the position.

A quarrel erupted when Essam Sultan asked the speaker for a two-minute introductory speech from every candidate vying for the post. Saqqa again referred to Article 56 of the procedural code, but Sultan persisted that it is the MPs' right “to know the candidate they vote for.” The quarrel worsened as MPs reached the speaker's stage and divided into supporters of Sultan's proposition on one hand, and mainly FJP members on the other hand, each side attempting to grab the microphone of the speaker to argue for or against Sultan's request, while Saqqa wavered between deciding whether to subject Sultan's request to vote or reject it outright because it was in conflict with the assembly's code.

Youssef al-Badry cried: “This way we'll be opening the first parliament session with dictatorship,” a comment which incited Saqqa’s anger. The acting speaker asked in the disarray: “What is the final opinion?” and the Freedom and Justice MPs gestured that they do not wish to submit Sultan's request to parliamentarians' vote. Saqqa then asked for help from the long-time Mubarak-era parliamentarian and current MP Mostapha Bakry, requesting his opinion “as an experienced MP.” As Bakry diplomatically stated that it depended on the code, another parliamentarian declared in the microphone that “this is an important freedom of expression issue,” after which Saqqa pleaded, “Ok please, let's give each candidate one minute.”

In his introductory speech, independent Youssef al-Badry said: “I would like to see the speaker's post finally submitted to free elections rather than decided by appointment.” The youngest parliamentarian was interrupted and rebuked by the acting speaker. Essam Sultan said something similar: “Let's vote freely for our speaker rather than repeat the old ways” but his microphone was interrupted. Magdi Sabry conceded candidacy to Essam Sultan. When it was Katatny's turn, he abstained from introducing himself, saying that he refuses to break parliamentary procedure.

A committee to oversee the election for speaker was convened. When a woman parliamentarian inquired why the committee lacked female members, Saqqa replied, “Women are present in our hearts.”

After a lengthy voting process, in which Mohamed Saad Al-Katatny received 399 votes, he was officially announced as speaker for the People's Assembly. In second place was Essam Sultan, who received 87 votes.

After much congratulations, acting speaker and Wafd MP Saqqa gave his seat to Saad Katatny. Asking to speak for one minute, he proclaimed that democracy was back to the Egyptian assembly, and that the elected parliamentarians should ensure a separation of powers, honor the martyrs with a mass grave similar to France's Pantheon, and seek harmony and concord among their factions. After, he left the ground for Katatny's inaugural speech.

Katatny said that the revolution continues until it achieves its goals of justice to the martyrs and fair and effective trials of the remnants of the old regime. He upheld democracy as the goal, for which hundreds of young Egyptians died.

“We will never betray the blood of the martyrs,” he proclaimed. He stressed that the speaker will observe neutrality in deliberations. He thanked the Armed Forces and the SCAF which achieved—as promised—free and fair elections despite “minor infractions.” He thanked the judges for the role they played in the assembly's elections. He repeated his gratitude for “the officers, the soldiers and the personnel of the great Armed Forces,” which, “along with the Police, carried the burden of protecting the election process.” He described the parliament as “the revolution's assembly” capable of achieving the people's desired goals provided they uphold “wisdom, patience, and good will.”

He said that among other tasks, the parliament should seek to re-build state institutions and reinforce the values of liberties, human rights, dignity, and re-establish security. “I confirm that we respect the freedom of speech and democracy,” he stated. He urged parliamentarians to cooperate with the current government to overcome Egypt's budget deficit and solve the social and economic problems of the general public. “This should recover the citizens' confidence in state institutions, as serving them rather than a band or a small group of beneficiaries,” he said.

Following a lengthy speech, the newly elected speaker proceeded to the election of his two deputies. Mohamad Abdel Alim Daood won the election for the worker/peasant deputy seat with 459 votes, while competing Abdel Nasser El Sayed (Qena-elected independent) only received 2 votes. Nour Party's Ashraf Thabet was elected by 429 MPs to the other deputy post. The Egyptian Social Democratic party's Ayman Abol-Ela received 29 votes and Coptic parliamentarian and professor of law Ihab Adel Ramzy only received 17 votes for the latter post.

Before the successful candidates read their inaugural speeches, Katatny declared that he just received a message from Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, which he read aloud. Tantawi congratulated the newly-elected parliamentarians, saying they were selected to represent the variety of the Egyptian people. The SCAF reminded them that it had promised to transfer power, and announced in their letter the transfer of “legislative and supervisory powers” to the assembly. “Our arms stretch out for cooperation [with parliament] in what remains of the transitional period,” it read. The letter then laid down the next steps toward the full transfer of power in the following sequence: Shura Council elections, Constitution drafting and presidential elections by July 2012.

The reading was followed by applause.

The two newly-elected speaker's deputies spoke to the assembly. Ashraf Thabet of the Nour Party stressed the rights of the revolution’s victims as one of his top priority. He then greeted the armed forces and the SCAF, which “set a wonderful example by siding with Egypt and the revolution and thwarted the plans for [Gamal's] succession.” He thanked the army and the SCAF at the end of his message, and thanked FJP for “seeking cooperation and concord rather than exclusive power.”

Mohamed Abdel Alim Daood chose to start his list of salutations with the “courageous Armed Forces” and greeted families of martyrs and the injured. He highlighted “recovering the stolen money of the people [from foreign banks]” as one of his top priorities.

“I will always oppose a government that exports gas to Israel, is silent at the face of the Zionist massacres and the occupation of our lands in Palestine, Lebanon and Golan, a government that does not secure the Nile resources, and does not punish the sinful hands that receive foreign funding,” he said. His sensationalist speech was intercepted with several rounds of applause.

Representatives of political parties spoke; FJP, Nour and Wafd spoke first. They extolled the new parliament, called for concord and reiterated that they were dedicated to bringing justice to the families of the martyrs, to draft a constitution, to recover stolen money, and re-establish security and economic welfare. They also expressed gratitude to the SCAF. The Nour Party representative announced that one of his party's priorities was to limit public borrowing.

Less represented parties' MPs further stressed that the current parliament was made possible by the sacrifices of the youth of the 25 January revolution, as noted by Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat of the Reform and Development Party. Magdy Qarqar of Amal Party emphasized the sacrifices of the youth which paved the way for this parliament to exist, including the killing of protesters. Bassel Kamel of the Egyptian Social Democratic party asked parliamentarians to “postpone greetings” until justice is served, and said that parliament should represent the revolution. He added that “only martyrs, revolutionaries and the people who voted for us deserve our gratitude,” implicitly denouncing the repeated expressions of gratefulness by parliamentarians to the SCAF. Part of his speech was spent defending liberalism from the “bad reputation” it had acquired, stressing that liberals “uphold liberties but respect people's traditions.” He was the only speaker in a day-long session to speak in colloquial Arabic.

Less straight-forward statements included those by Freedom Party’s Moataz Mahmoud, who warned about “going out of legitimacy,” which according to would lead to “the creative chaos they seek to plunge Egypt into.” Adel Shaalan of the Egyptian Citizen party spoke of “the wheel of production and investment,”

Hilal al-Dandarawi of the Tagammu Party was the first to utter the word “midan” (alluding to the ongoing protest movement in public squares across Egypt since the revolution) after 13 hours of sessions had elapsed. He stressed that “we derive legitimacy also from the streets and Tahrir squares of Egypt.” Karama party MP Saad Abboud urged parliamentarians “to go to the squares” on 25 January, to show that they derive legitimacy from the people. Even later in the session, the word “revolutionaries” was uttered for the first time by a Building and Development Party representative. Abdel Moneim al-Sawy of the Hadara Party emphasized the importance trying corrupt Mubarak-era figures and those who killed protesters during the 18-day revolution. He also urged fellow parliamentarians to set a timetable to meet the people’s most pressing demands. Azza Al-Garf of FJP urged the drafting of a working plan “so as to avoid rhetorical speeches.” Mostafa al-Naggar of the Adl Party stressed that the parliament is an extension of and complements the revolution, and that it should not detach itself from “the square.”

“It is not enough to send condolences to families of the martyrs. Justice is in order and so is the transfer of power from the SCAF to a civilian government,” he said.

The only parties that were not represented in the inaugural speeches were the Free Egyptians Party and the Itihad Party.

The last minutes before Katatny announced the end of the session, he told parliamentarians that he received a proposal for a response to SCAF's letter. He asked parliamentarians whether he should read it out and submit it to vote, and MPs raised their hands affirmatively. The letter expressed “gratitude, appreciation and greetings” to the SCAF for having “exerted commendable efforts to make the revolution parliament a reality” through an unprecedented three-stage electoral marathon. “You have fulfilled your promises” the letter read. The SCAF's “historical stance toward the Egyptian revolution” was acclaimed. “We will always remember that you have endured the consequences of such a stance with the temerity of fighters,” the letter added.

Katatny received a note which he read out loud, requesting that the word “marathon” be changed to its Arabic equivalent. Only two parliamentarians expressed reservations. Magdi Qarqar requested that a statement be added demanding the release of 2000 prisoners awaiting military trials or at least their transfer to civilian courts. Mostafa al-Naggar argued that the letter “will cause animosity with a substantial section of the population for whom the SCAF has not fulfilled all the tasks incumbent on it.” Katatny swiftly dismissed the objection, “Yes but the parliament has agreed to pass the letter.”

Related Articles

Back to top button