When you look across the length and breadth of the country to find the impact of this “victory,” your sight will return to you dazzled and defeated because conditions of Egyptian workers and farmers everywhere are truly pitiful
The constitutional declaration issued by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) included an article stipulating that at least 50% of the next parliament must be composed of workers and farmers. In justifying this decision, the SCAF said that the 50% requirement (mind you, it is “at least” 50%) was one of the victories realized by the 1952 revolution for workers and farmers.
Then when you look across the length and breadth of the country to find the impact of this “victory,” your sight will return to you dazzled and defeated because conditions of Egyptian workers and farmers everywhere are truly pitiful.
It is no secret that the people who created this requirement during the time of the Socialist Union – a time when the people were classified into occupational categories and into nationalists and traitors, among other labels – had embraced the notion of supremacy of the proletariat.
The farmers had reaped fruit of the Land Reclamation program and their children too. One of my biggest hopes for those who brought about the January 25 revolution is that we have a real parliament that fulfills, without discrimination, its legislative and monitoring role for the interest of all Egyptians benefited from free education. Similarly, the number of industrial workers employed by the public sector increased during Nasser’s vigorous industrial development. Therefore, it was only natural that these two segments of the population would be looked to – as loyal allies of the revolution – in the struggle against the middle class and intellectuals, who were the object of the ruling class’s suspicion for the last 60 years. This 50% quota of parliament would guarantee the regime’s ability to pass all the decrees and laws it wished with great ease and negligible opposition.
If the idea of maintaining this quota is that farmers and workers will best represent the interests of their communities, and if we agree that the farmers’ work is roughly the same, then what about the workers? Why should there not be a specific quota for gravediggers and another for ironsmiths, and for butchers, sewage workers, construction workers, carpenters, mechanics, and so on. Every one of these vocations has its own circumstances and problems. So, using that same ridiculous logic, they would best represent their communities’ interests.
Did it not occur to those who insisted on maintaining this suspicious, notorious article that none of the world’s democracies have any similar absurdity? I wonder, are the numbers of our farmers and workers more than those of India? Are we more concerned about democratic representation than the United Kingdom, the mother of democracies? Or do we merely like to proceed backward?
If we ask ourselves – what are the interests of farmer? – we will find those interests divided into two categories: interests related to general living, like all other Egyptians, and these include food, housing, health, education, security, and taxes; and professional interests, related to seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, equipment and equipment prices, loans, selling prices of crops, land lease laws, etc. However, these professional interests depend on a number of factors that can only be comprehended fully and organized by the relevant specialized bureaus; while some of the other factors are a driven by market forces.
In democratic nations there are independent syndicates and unions that have elected boards. Why should there not be a specific quota for gravediggers and another for ironsmiths, and for butchers, sewage workers, construction workers, carpenters, mechanics, and so on. Every one of these vocations has its own circumstances and problems? That would be ridiculous and the state doesn’t interfere in their affairs. These unions defend the professional interests of their constituencies and often act as lobby groups. But, there are always balancing elements to prevent any single sector from overshadowing the other sectors. The case in the UK of the developing relationship between the Labor Party and the workers’ unions since 1979 provides a lesson or two about what happens when the strength of any specific sector in society grows significantly beyond moderate levels.
Meanwhile, a member of parliament represents his constituents regardless of their occupations or interests. If he or she does not listen to voters’ problems, be they farmers, workers, men, women, young, or old, then that member of parliament does not deserve to be a representative of the people.
One of my biggest hopes for those who brought about the January 25 revolution is that we have a real parliament that fulfills, without discrimination, its legislative and monitoring role for the interest of all Egyptians. I hope our parliament will be able to hold the president accountable, and not be used as a means for personal gains or to be merely a tool used by the president to provide unconditional rubber-stamp approvals for his decrees. This hope for the parliament will never be realized if we impose a quota for this professional group and a quota for that professional group.
If it so happens that farmers elect a farmer to represent them, because they make up a larger part of a certain constituency, then that is their right. More so, if free elections result in 90% of parliament’s seats for workers and farmers, and not only 50%, there is nothing wrong with that so long as it is the people’s free choice. But to impose a 50% quota from the start is an act of reprehensible guardianship over the people and a grave restriction of their freedom to choose their representatives. It even arouses strong suspicions about the intentions behind imposing such a quota.
When the British Labor Party wanted to increase the number of its female parliamentarians in the elections of 1997, it increased its number of female candidates running for office. And although these female candidates were chosen from among the best overall candidates, at the end of the day, it was the voters’ decision, not any group of people here or there [imposing a quota]. This is real democracy, not democracy a la "backward march!"
Nagwa Emad is a highly experienced PR professional with over 25 years in the Middle East. She is the Founder of the PR firm Media Waves, based in Egypt, and is the National Chair of Egypt for the International Public Relations Association (IPRA)