Newly elected MPs haven’t forgotten the street

In the past, the average Egyptian defined a member of parliament as a man in a suit giving speeches in parliament. But the phenomenon of newly elected MPs sleeping on the street with protesters is changing that image.

Parliamentary expert Yasser Kassab sees the participation of MPs in street activities as an early sign that the next parliament will be one that is open and accessible to the public.

“The definition of the parliament in Egypt was lacking. We only saw it as a political institution, while it is a political institution with a popular nature,” says Kassab, adding that this requires MPs to be immersed in street activities.

“This is something that is dictated by the revolutionary moment we’re living. If the parliament doesn’t reflect the general opinion of the people, it will lose its popular legitimacy,” he adds.

Following the violence that caused 15 deaths in Tahrir Square and on Qasr al-Ainy Street last week, MPs Amr Hamzawy, of Heliopolis, and Mostafa al-Naggar, of Nasr City, started a sit-in in front of the Journalists Syndicate on Tuesday, sleeping under a banner that reads: “The representatives of the people sit-in to stop the bloodshed of the people.”

The sit-in was in support of an initiative started by a number of MPs and public figures demanding an immediate cessation of violence. It also demanded the creation of an independent judicial committee to investigate the clashes and suggest ways to transition power to the elected parliament by the end of the third round of parliamentary voting in mid January.

 “Without our participation on the street, MPs would have no influence on the youth. This is a declaration from the MPs to the youth that we are with them,” says MP Abul Ezz al-Hariry, who is taking part in the initiative.

MP Ziad al-Eleimy, member of the 25 January Revolutionary Youth Coalition, was beaten up with other protesters on Friday. He was told by the soldier that assaulted him that his status as a member of parliament would not protect him, a departure from the days of Mubarak when members of parliament were above the law.

With parliament not yet in session, Hariry believes that the MP’s role during this period is to mediate between the people and the ruling military council through direct contact with ordinary Egyptians.

On Sunday, a group of MPs attempted to form a human shield to stop the fighting in Sheikh Rihan Street, but they were rejected by the protesters, who pushed them away, yelling, “You are too late. People have already died.”

The aggressive welcome these politicians received for appearing on the scene two days after clashes started suggets that, for some at least, MPs will not be respected if they remain mostly in their offices. Rather, they will be expected to stand by protesters on the streets and deliver their demands to those in power.

Karima al-Hefnawy, a leading member of the Kefaya Movement for Change, echoes a popular feeling among the public that the MPs owe their seats to the people who revolted.

“The MPs have to continue in their place in the street, with the people, protecting them and their demands, so that we believe that when they are inside the parliament they will deliver their demands,” says Hefnawy.

For the few young MPs that made it into parliament, they agree with protesters that the streets gave them their seats, and that they should maintain their link to street politics.

“I am not a politician. I was here since 25 January, taking part in the protests, and I want to ease the concerns of the people who are pessimistic and tell them: 'Here’s one of you, representing you in the parliament,'” says MP Ibrahim Abdel Wahab, who ran at the top of the liberal Free Egyptians Party in Alexandria, commenting from his place at the Journalists Syndicate sit-in.

Some MPs, though, believe that the parliament replaces street action and distance themselves from it. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which has won the largest number of seats so far, expressed its concern that the street violence could disturb the democratic process.

Hamzawy and Naggar have redeemed themselves by announcing on Tuesday that they will stage a sit-in with the protesters. Attacks on protesters have stopped since the start of the MP’s sit-in.

“If MPs were seen among the people, it could prevent an attack, or if an attack happens, their presence would prove that the government has no respect for anything,” adds Hefnawy.

Under Mubarak’s regime, which controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government, the parliament was reduced to a tool in the hands of the regime.

Kassab says that current regulations unduly limit the authority of MPs and complicate the process challenging existing government officials and holding them to account.

 “The extent of the MPs' participation on the street after the formation of the parliament depends on the powers they will be given. If they feel that the parliament is not  allowing them to do what’s in the best interests of the people, they will do it outside [of parliament],” says Hefnawy.

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