Parliament review: A week of comedy and disappointment

This week’s parliamentary sessions had the public joking about airing future sessions on comedy channels instead of news, and those who abstained from the polls telling those who participated, in hope of having a legitimate authority representing them, “I told you so.”

The Port Said violence that left over 70 dead last Wednesday presented Parliament with its first major challenge, as the public looked to it to take decisive action in response to the event as well as the clashes that later erupted around the Interior Ministry in Cairo and in Suez. Those later clashes left 15 dead and over 200 injured.

The public’s hopes were crushed by the results of Parliament’s sessions, during which the ministers of Petroleum and Interior were interrogated and three fact-finding committees were limited to unexecuted recommendations.

In the parliamentary sessions, the Port Said massacre took a back seat to the clashes around the Interior Ministry, which erupted when protesters headed to the ministry last Thursday to protest its role in the massacre.

Following an emergency session last Thursday, Parliament formed a fact-finding committee which issued its initial report, accusing security authorities of failing in their responsibilities to secure the stadium, concluding that the massacre was the result of a carefully orchestrated plan.

Discussions relating to the security crisis, unemployment and shortages in petrol and gas occupied limited time during the sessions, which were dominated by disagreements that escalated into screaming matches and accusations among parliament MPs about whether those protesting near the Interior Ministry were “thugs” or “revolutionaries” and whether the ministry used birdshot against them.

On Monday, Parliament speaker Saad al-Katatny sent a fact-finding committee to the scene of the clashes to determine whether the ministry used violence against protesters.  

Katatny said that Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim had informed him that the forces used nothing but tear gas on protesters, at which point Egyptian Bloc MP Mohamed Abu Hamed, who was part of the fact finding committee, creating a commotion in Parliament by holding up a birdshot pellet.

In Tuesday’s session, attended by the interior minister, the committee determined that protesters were injured and killed with pellets and live fire. It held the ministry responsible for protester deaths and recommended a no confidence vote against Ibrahim, that the ministry be restructured and reformed, the ministry’s removal to another location, a law managing peaceful protests and the return of protesters to Tahrir Square.

Despite the committee’s recommendations against the ministry, Ibrahim still contradicted the committee’s conclusions in his statement to Parliament and walked out without being subjected to a no confidence vote as recommended.

The interior minister insisted that security forces only used tear gas on protesters and that they only fired it in defense of the ministry building when it was attacked. The minister also said that infiltrators among the protesters used birdshot and other weapons against the ministry’s forces.

The minister left Parliament with nothing more than a few critical responses from the MPs.

MP Ziad al-Elaimy, representative of the Egyptian Bloc, subtly accused the minister of lying, saying that the MPs could smell the tear gas in Parliament on a day that the minister claimed no tear gas was fired. Elaimy said that the violence is a conspiracy that serves the ruling military council’s goal of maintaining power.

Other MPs accused Ibrahim of being unaware of what is taking place in his ministry and of being unable to control the corrupt elements in it who, based on his testimony and the findings of the fact-finding committee, must be using weapons behind his back.

This week marked a sharp decline in the revolutionary forces’ already shaky faith in Parliament.

During the discussion, most MPs insisted on calling those protesting at the Interior Ministry “thugs.” MP Mostafa Bakry accused them of being agents sent by the US and Mohamed ElBaradei. Mohamed Mostafa, representative of the Salafi-oriented Nour Party, accused protesters of taking drugs. Even though the party apologized for the MP’s statement, he reiterated the accusation in the next session, saying that it was important to differentiate between protesters and thugs.

Not only did Parliament fail to take decisive action to stop violence against protesters, some MPs handed the speaker a request on Monday for the Parliament to allow the Interior Ministry to protect itself against assaults, which, if passed, would give the ministry a green light to use live ammunition against protesters.

While most MPs were critical of protesters, a few emerged as the opposition wing within Parliament. This group is led by MPs Elaimy, Abou Hamed, Hamdy al-Fakharany, Mohamed Abdel Moneim al-Sawy, Bassem Kamel, Mohamed Shabana, Amr Hamzawy, Amr al-Shobaky and Mostafa al-Naggar.

Those MPs were often interrupted and yelled at when they spoke out against the assault on protesters around the Interior Ministry.

In an indication that these MPs share the public’s concern that, while being the most legitimate authority currently in place, Parliament is unable to take effective action, some of them returned to the street.

Five MPs started a sit-in outside Parliament on Monday, which was suspended the next day when the assaults on protesters around the Interior Ministry stopped.

The chaos that marked the week’s sessions peaked when Salafi MP Mamdouh Ismail stood up in the middle of a session and raised the call for prayer, bringing to life jokes that have been spreading about the Islamist-dominated Parliament. Parliament speaker Katatny, from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, however, firmly instructed the MP to stop, telling him that this is not a place for prayer.

While Katatny refused to let Parliament be transformed into a mosque, he did allow a brief religious sermon from MP Sayed Askar, who gave a short speech explaining how interrupting Parliament by the call for prayer doesn’t comply with religion.

Many of Parliament’s subcommittees met with ministers and issued recommendations, but only one committee succeeded in having its recommendations executed, marking one much-needed victory for Parliament in a week of otherwise disappointing performances.

In compliance with Defense and National Security Committee recommendations, the Interior Ministry issued orders to separate the figures of Mubarak’s regime in jail and begin preparations for transporting the former president from Sharm el-Sheikh to Tora Prison hospital.

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