Egypt: twin crises in parliament

February 13th, 2012

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Gamal Essam El-Din, 9 – 15 February 2012.

The tragic events in Port Said that left 74 people dead and hundreds others injured last week and the bloody clashes between protesters and police around the Interior Ministry building in downtown Cairo this week have left the newly-elected People’s Assembly in a difficult situation. While MPs almost agreed on a package of measures to fight riots during football matches, they were divided over what means should be used to prevent attacks on the Interior Ministry.  

There were fierce debates on Monday as to whether those engaged in clashes around the Ministry of Interior should be considered “revolutionaries” or “thugs”. The Interior Ministry building is just one street away from the parliament, and the new speaker of the assembly, Saad El-Katatni, sent a delegation out to investigate reports of firearms being used against protesters attacking the Interior Ministry building.

El-Katatni took the decision after MP Mohamed Abu Hamed, a member of the liberal-oriented Free Egyptians Party sponsored by Coptic businessman Naguib Sawiris, said he had received assurances from people near the Interior Ministry that Central Security Forces guarding the building had used birdshot against the protesters. El-Katatni formed a delegation including the chair of the assembly’s Youth Committee Osama Yassin and of the National Security Committee Abbas Mikheimar, as well as MPs Mohamed Abu Hamed, Sherif Zahran, and Hatem Azzam, to investigate.

El-Katatni later said he had received assurances from Major General Mohamed Youssef Ibrahim that birdshot had not been used against the protesters. He asked the protesters near the Interior Ministry to withdraw and move back to Tahrir Square, so that “we can see who are the revolutionary protesters and who are the thugs who have infiltrated them.”

Nevertheless, debate on the issue revealed significant divisions, with Islamist MPs from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafist Nour Party reaching a consensus that “the attacks against the ministry are part of a conspiracy aimed at spreading chaos in Egypt.”

The MPs were joined in this belief by some leftist deputies, though liberal MPs rejected the conspiracy theory and warned of resorting to “security solutions” for the crisis. “This solution proved a failure in previous times,” said Mohamed Abu Hamed, MP for the Free Egyptians Party … (full text).

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