Parliament review: Facts and follies

Continuing to showcase an outright disregard for all things orderly and restrained, parliamentary sessions plowed through the week, with members attempting to juggle the nation’s top issues, and essentially fumbling every single one of them.

This week Parliament convened twice on Sunday and Monday, while the third session was cancelled due to the Shura Council elections.

Looming largest on the week’s agenda was the presentation of a preliminary report by a parliamentary fact-finding committee assigned with investigating the Port Said incident on 1 February, when fans of the local Masry team stormed the pitch in an assault against visiting Ahly supporters that left 73 dead.

The findings of the report, presented during Sunday’s session by head of the fact-finding committee Ashraf Thabet, were met with overwhelming criticism and complaints from the floor, provoking cries of objection from the attending MPs, particularly during the reading of a section regarding ultras, or soccer enthusiasts/hooligans.

Besides hinting at the Ultra’s contribution to the violence, Thabet began his presentation by stating that the incident was an indirect result of “the culture and aggressive behavior of ultras, which the state and society has allowed to grow rampant.”

More concrete blame was assigned to the state, as well as the soccer federation, for failing to enforce comprehensive security measures, especially in such ominous conditions. As Thabet pointed out in his presentation, the two teams have a history of violent rivalry between themselves, and other soccer clubs. “For a period of time before this game, there were serious threats from both sides exchanged over the internet.”

“All of this,” Thabet lamented, “should have been taken into consideration.”

The lack of security, the report determined, is an even greater crime when compared to an uneventful game between the same two teams in April of last year, held under the watchful eye of the armed forces, who failed to provide any security for this most recent, tragic encounter.

The report also found fault with the stadium conditions, with Thabet pointing out that the eastern gates had indeed been welded shut, and that the fences separating the bleachers from the pitch, were “very low, and easily surmountable.” Thabet also described the railings on the uppermost stands of the bleachers as being “low enough to easily throw someone over.”

Regarding the actual attack on Ahly’s supporters, the fact-finding committee determined that, as had been initially reported, the stadium’s lights were turned off as the violence broke out, while the rushing crowds from Masry’s stands were armed with clubs, machetes, mace, daggers and flashlights, or, according to Thabet, “glowsticks.”

“There were two types of attackers in this incident,” Thabet stated. “Thugs and ultras —each played a critical role.” Thabet insisted that, according to the committee’s investigations, the Port Said incident was at least partially fueled by rivalries between the ultras. “We heard accounts of Masry ultras seeking out Ahly ultras by name,” said Thabet.

During Monday’s session, MPs reacted to the report, with 148 members requesting to comment on/shout about the findings announced on the previous day. Wafd MP Mahmoud al-Sakka took to the floor to announce that he had “unraveled the secret of the preliminary report,” which was that the members of the fact-finding committee had “sat in their hotel, waiting for claims and accounts to come to them from individuals interested in clearing their own names.”

“We will never forget how the green pitch of Port Said turned red with blood,” Sakka bellowed, adding that the only fact that needs to be found is the one that determines where responsibility lies. “The time has come to reveal the third hand,” Sakka concluded.

Free Egyptians MP Mohamed Abou Hamed followed, attempting, as many MPs had before him, to clear the ultras of any wrongdoing. Abou Hamed ran afoul of Parliament Speaker Saad al-Katatny, however, when he announced an upcoming march organized by Ahly Ultras, prompting the head of Parliament to shout, “What are you, their sponsor? Are you the official spokesperson for marches now?” which itself triggered a delayed reaction of laughter and jeers from the attending MPs, and lots of stammering from Abou Hamed.

Things continued to go downhill for Abou Hamed, whose excuses were interrupted by a sudden interrogation launched by Katatny into a statement the former had made to Al-Ahram, claiming that the legitimacy of the street outweighed that of Parliament. Abou Hamed floundered for a few excruciating minutes against a backdrop of shouts from MPs cheering on Katatny’s remarks, before gathering his thoughts enough to offer an explanation: “I said that the legitimacy of people is above all and that the people are the source of authority, and any authority enjoyed by Parliament is an extension from that of the people, and it is only temporary, whereas that of the people is the original.” His words were met with minimal applause and advice from Katatny: “If Al-Ahram has maliciously misrepresented you, I suggest you write them a letter of complaint.”

Abou Hamed was later attacked by Nour Party MP Mohamed al-Sughayar who called him “a coward, who lacks the courage to stand by the words Al-Ahram attributes to him.” This sparked several more minutes of shouting. 

Later on, Katatny decided to hear from FJP MP Mohamed Idris of the Arab Affairs Committee, whose report on the current situation within Palestinian territories was described by Katatny as “a welcome break from the session.”

Among other things, the report read by Idris called for a conference between all Palestinian factions to be held in Cairo on 18 February, as an indication of “the Parliament and the Egyptian people’s unwavering commitment to the Palestinian cause.”

As the session resumed, MPs took to the floor to make a variety of comments, accusations and suggestions, from claims of clear evidence of a terror plot, to demands that Ahly’s players be allowed to testify. “[Ahly play maker] Abou Treika especially has publicly stated that he has information that can prove pivotal to the investigation,” MP Wahid Abdel Meguid urged. “But nobody wants to listen to him!”

At the end of the two-hour session, Katatny read a breakdown of the comments heard, announcing that, of the speakers, four had been members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, three from the Nour party, two from Wafd and two independents, with remaining parties having enjoyed one opportunity to address Parliament, if even that. It is worth noting that Katatny began the session by stating his efforts in “listening to a variety of speakers, not just from specific parties.”

Ultimately, MPs largely seemed to concur that the preliminary report’s findings were vague and inconclusive, prompting Thabet to reiterate that it was only a preliminary report, and that it did not depict the ultras as thugs — a major point of contention among those present.

On Tuesday, a parliamentary committee heard the testimony of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who assured MPs that a ministerial committee is reviewing the laws regulating the work of the police. He added that police are only working at 60 percent capacity since the 25 January revolution erupted.

Other issues were discussed in Parliament this week, albeit overshadowed by the fact-finding committee’s report, and the objections and accusations it provoked. On Sunday, MPs voted to refer the bread and wheat crisis to Parliament’s economic committee, an issue which many present described as “a matter of national security.”

Minister of Supply and Social Affairs Gouda Abdel Khaleq told MPs during the bread crisis discussion that the previous regime has left us with a legacy of carcinogenic wheat. Abdel Khaleq said that Egypt’s food security is at stake as subsidized bread contains 60 percent imported wheat. “We need Parliament to help us fix this problem, and we can also cooperate with Sudan,” he said.

Issues regarding national health were also discussed in Parliament this week, with FJP MP Akram al-Shaer, head of the health committee, claiming during Monday’s session that “44,000 Egyptian citizens,” — or, two percent of the total number of patients in Egypt — “require renal dialysis.” This comes after Parliament issued a controversial law earlier in the month regulating transplant operations. The law was introduced under the supposed intention of curbing a thriving illegal trade in human organs. Shaer also called for the creation of a supreme health council to improve medical services for citizens.

Beside plenary sessions, specialized committees met throughout the week to discuss a number of national issues. On Wednesday, one of the committees met with the Illicit Gains Authority, headed by Assem al-Gohary, to discuss a draft law that would allow government officials to be tried in court.

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