CAIRO: In a discussion held at the press syndicate, parliamentarians assessed the parliament s performance in its first session. The discussion was organized by the freedoms committee in the syndicate, which invited parliamentary representatives from different backgrounds.
The speakers assessed the first session, which started on December 2005 and ended on July 2006. The ruling National Democratic Party, holders of the majority of the seats, did not send a representative to the talk.
The speakers all agreed that last year s session was different from previous ones. Still dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party with 307 seats, the speakers declared it a triumph for the opposition in that it earned 125 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections.
As an incentive to motivate and convince people of the importance of democracy and, consequently, the parliament, Mohamed Abdel Qodoos, head of the committee, linked Arab weakness with undemocratic governments. The first step to end our weakness is freedom, and that s where the importance of the parliament comes from, he says.
This year was a long year. It was full of laws and questionings, but the most important laws were the judicial authority law and the press law, says Mohammed Shaaban, the representative of the leftist El-Tagammu Party block that consists of eight members.
The speakers emphasized that the parliament wasn t the only player concerning rights and freedoms. The Peoples Assembly isn t everything; there are other movements that affect the rights and freedoms of the people, Shaaban continues.
All organizations have the right to establish pressure groups to pass laws for their interests, says Kamal Zahran, a representative of the official independents block, consisting of 15 members.
The 2005 parliament was different from all previous parliaments and it gave the government a permanent headache, says Mohammed El Beltagi, representative of the Muslim Brotherhood and the deputy of their parliamentary block. There is serious talk now how not to let this assembly be repeated. Last year, the local councils elections were postponed for two years.
Our people are deprived from following the extraordinary parliament s performance now that the television doesn t broadcast the whole of them; it only broadcasts the parts it chooses with no transparency, he continues.
Despite the speakers positive assessment of the first session and optimism about the future, the majority in the parliament was able to pass a number of controversial laws that the speakers organizations highly opposed.
The judicial authority law was opposed by the Judges Club and other civil society organizations along with protestors, with experts on UN rights recently expressing concern in a press release over the judicial authority law. The law, however, passed.
The press law was another controversial law that faced a great deal of opposition. Twenty-five independent newspapers protested by not printing editions on the day the parliament was discussing the law. While the law was amended, it fell short in the eyes of the opposition because it allowed increased fines for journalists making allegations against officials.
While in practice the same laws can still pass through parliament, the reaction to them evinces a new public concern that has developed over parliamentary discussions.