On Sadat and Criticism in Egypt’s Parliament

As many of the readers of this post may already be aware, Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, former chairman of the Human Rights Committee in parliament, and founder of the Sadat Association for Development and Social Welfare was removed from his seat in parliament on February 27. He was voted out overwhelmingly when the roll call vote and subsequent reopening of the vote for absent members saw 468 of the 593 current voting members of parliament (not counting Sadat who did not vote) came out in favor of removing him. Only eight representatives rejected this proposal and four abstained, with at least one abstention a result of the punishment not being harsh enough.

This result shouldn’t come as a surprise, as pressure has been building to oust Sadat since November 2016. With at least 350 of the necessary 398 votes publically declared against Sadat before the vote began, representatives like Muhammad al-Husseini felt so confident in the result that they brought soccer-themed props to the vote to better taunt Sadat on his way out. One can surmise that Sadat was also resigned to his fate from the photos of him smoking calmly outside the building with journalists as the vote was taken.

The case against Sadat was built on several different allegations, including impugning the parliament by complaining to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) about parliamentary practices, accepting foreign funding without accounting for how it was spent, leaking a draft of the controversial NGO Law to foreign embassies, and forging members’ signatures on draft laws he was presenting. Only the latter two allegations were part of his official investigation by the parliament. The variations on the former two allegations were part of several statements made by other members or local media members. In total, the case was built upon the image of Sadat a foreign agent “selling out his country for a fistful of dollars.”

Unfortunately, all of these allegations are spurious at best. I both hate repeatedly attacking the credibility of the Egyptian government and feel uncomfortable openly defending a man I wouldn’t necessarily have voted for were I Egyptian. But that doesn’t change the fact that Sadat should never have been removed from parliament.

First of all, Sadat’s complaints about the parliament were justified. Sadat was the head of the Human Rights Committee during the first session of parliament and symbolically resigned from that position after feeling like his efforts were sidelined throughout the session (TIMEP’s report on the session corroborates this). He was then replaced by Alaa Abed, a former police officer plagued by torture allegations, in a vote that saw the pro-regime Coalition in Support of Egypt illegally stack the committee with dozens votes then redistribute them to other committees. In light of these events, his comments to the IPU and the public were entirely within reason.

Second, I have not seen financial statements for the Sadat Association for Development and Social Welfare, but I would be very surprised if it was any more of a conduit for foreign schemes in Egypt than organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International — that is to say, not at all — which are regularly demonized on these charges.

Third, there are no written rules in the parliament calling for the secrecy of draft laws under debate. In a more transparent and media-friendly parliament, this wouldn’t be an issue; never mind that the draft NGO Law seems to have been publicly available by the time Sadat is alleged to have presented it to embassy employees. This doesn’t even touch on the abhorrent nature of the law itself.

Finally, I have no evidence to prove or disprove the allegations of Sadat forging signatures on draft laws. In the Egyptian system, 60 member signatures are needed to send a draft law directly to the relevant topical committee and bypass debate in the Suggestions and Complaints Committee. This is the most popular means of introducing legislation. However, given that member-drafted laws accounted for less than 19% of the laws passed last session, the odds that Sadat’s NGO bill and criminal procedures bill (the drafts cited in the allegations) would have passed even with the signatures is low. He may have forged the signatures, but it was a high-risk move that was unlikely to succeed from the outset and he would have known that.

Given these factors, I believe Sadat’s position as the most outspoken critic of the government’s flaws in parliament played a pivotal role in his removal from the body. In the 13 months he was a member of parliament, Sadat has pointedout instances where the parliament appears to have wasted 18 million Egyptian pounds, called on the government to account for its self-inflicted setbacks on the expensive new administrative capital, called for the release of prisoners of conscience, and drawn attention to the poor conditions in Egypt’s prisons. None of these stances are radical or worthy of censure in a functioning parliamentary system. Protecting the rights and tax dollars of citizens should never be a risky proposition for elected representatives. The fact that these actions were circuitously condemned so uniformly by the parliament and members of the media demonstrates the issues and contradictions with which the Egyptian ruling cohort is still struggling.

This was originally posted on TIMEP’s website as a blog post.