Egypt’s new parliament and the clash of mythologies

For many Egyptians, NDP membership was equivalent to paying dues to participate in public service, as with the Baath Party in Saddam’s Iraq.

Abdallah Schleifer
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When Egypt’s parliament held its inaugural session on Sunday, the constitution’s formula intended to bind together all political factions except the Muslim Brotherhood, invoking the “principles” of the Jan. 25 revolution that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, and the June 30 revolution that led to the overthrow of his successor Mohammed Mursi.

However, when Mohammed el-Itmani - an MP affiliated with the largest parliamentary faction, the Support for Egypt bloc - hailed these “two great revolutions” as he nominated himself as a candidate for parliament speaker, he was interrupted by independent deputies who denounced the Jan. 25 revolution.


Unsurprisingly, they were MPs who had served in Mubarak’s ruling party in the last parliament prior to his overthrow. More than that, they were almost notorious in Egyptian politics as militant defenders of Mubarak when the demonstrations in Tahrir Square quickly turned into a mass uprising.

The word revolution implies a profound change in social and political structures, which did not happen.

Abdallah Schleifer

A large number of current MPs were members of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). With strong followings in their districts, they were elected as independents for this first post-Mursi parliament. Most of them did not join in the outburst.

For many Egyptians, NDP membership was simply equivalent to paying dues to participate effectively in public service, as with the Baath Party in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. That was the case with those former NDP members now serving as MPs who did not raise their voices against the very constitution they had just taken an oath to support. Nor did the two MPs subsequently elected as deputy speakers - both are former NDP members.

The newly-elected speaker is constitutional law professor Ali Abdel-Al, a member of the Support for Egypt bloc. He widened the tent of reconciliation when upon being elected as speaker, he called on MPs to observe a minute’s silence for “the martyrs of both the Jan. 25 and June 30 revolutions, as well as those among the police, military and judiciary.”

Uprisings, not revolutions

All of this takes on relevance as Egypt approaches the fifth anniversary of what I prefer to refer to as the Jan. 25 uprising, since the word revolution implies a profound change in social and political structures, which did not happen.

Nor did the uprising force Mubarak to flee. What it did was force the military command to face a momentous choice - preserve his rule by firing on millions of protesters, or stage a soft coup and force Mubarak to resign and leave Cairo with his immediate family.

So it was the army command, not demonstrators who overthrew him. His mistake was to go to the family compound in Sharm el-Sheikh rather than leave the country, for in the weeks to come, additional demonstrations pushed the authorities to arrest him and his two sons and bring them back to the capital.

The same can be said of the June 30 “revolution.” It too was an uprising. There were more protesters demanding that Mursi step down than there were against Mubarak. Mursi refused, as he had refused earlier efforts by the army command, led then by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to persuade him to negotiate a compromise with opposition parties. That effort became an ultimatum in the wake of June 30. Again Mursi refused, again the army intervened, and again there have not yet been profound social and political changes.


Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and distinguished visiting professor of political mass media at Future University in Egypt. He is also professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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