CAIRO — Egypt’s legislators will be going back to school if one member of parliament's proposal passes — but given the plan’s controversial nature, they should be strong debaters by the time they get there.
Mohammed Anwar Sadat, president of the Reform and Development Party, wants to establish an academy for parliamentarians. The school would help members of parliament better conduct their oversight and legislative duties, he said, particularly new members who have never performed such tasks.
Sadat stressed that oversight and legislation require tools that must be properly used to safeguard the public’s rights and solve problems. Sadat’s proposal is causing widespread debate, both inside parliament and among political observers.
In explaining his idea, Sadat told Al-Monitor that “the idea involves establishing an educational academy attached to the parliament building … and contracting with faculty members who specialize in the relevant disciplines such as law, constitution, finance, economy, etc.”
The school would be for members of parliament and their assistants.
Sadat said there is no truth to rumors that members of parliament would be required to pass the curriculum taught in the academy, since members of parliament are chosen by the people. The aim is not to embarrass them, but to raise their awareness and help them carry out their duties. But assistants, who will be graded on their performance, will either pass or fail.
Sadat added, “The academy will be independent from the government represented by the Ministry of Higher Education. It shall be managed by specialists and fall under the direct financial and administrative purview of parliament. I shall not play any role whatsoever in its management, with my role confined to submitting the proposal and the implementation thereof.”
He further pointed out that the academy would be free for members of parliament and assistants, because developing the latter's capabilities is a state responsibility. It would be inconceivable, he said, that members of parliament who draft the country’s general budget and are paid 15,000 Egyptian pounds (about $2,000) a month, would be asked to pay educational fees.
The plan’s cost will depend on yet-to-be-determined details such as whether a new facility will be needed or if the academy could use existing space in the parliament building. Also, parliament would have to consider the cost of paying faculty members who are knowledgeable enough to teach what members of parliament need to learn.
However, member of parliament Sami Ramadan, who represents the district of Kurmoz in Alexandria governorate, doesn’t think an academy is needed.
“Parliament’s job is to legislate and not educate. The current parliament is composed of MPs who hail from a variety of professional backgrounds and who need to address all kinds of legislative matters, including economic, health, educational, youth and other matters,” Ramadan told Al-Monitor. “No one person can excel at all these disciplines. But MPs can, if stumped by a problem related to an economic piece of legislation, for example, consult with specialists in that field. As such, I think that such an academy would be a waste of time and effort, considering that it relates to MPs chosen, as is, by the people.”
In contrast, parliament member Khaled Yussef, who represents the Kafr Shukr district of Qalyubia governorate, told Al-Monitor, “The idea is commendable, for education is unrelated to age or position, and people are supposed to continue learning until they die. Therefore, if an MP desired to further his knowledge in some particular field that he wanted to specialize in parliament, then the academy could play a very positive role in that regard.
“Furthermore, the academy being attached to the parliament building would save those MPs a great deal of time, and I would be the first to enroll.”
But Amna Noseir, a professor of Islamic doctrine and philosophy at Al-Azhar University who represents the For the Love of Egypt coalition, thinks parliament members should already be well-versed in political knowledge when they start their jobs.
“Preparing MPs must begin during the basic stage of education, through curricula that develop citizens who are cognizant of their rights in and duties toward their country. This is something that we currently lack, for Egyptian universities are graduating students who are culturally illiterate,” she said.
“More surprising, even, is that some actually illiterate students, for the lack of proper oversight during exams, are cheating to pass their basic educational requirements. We cannot ask ourselves why [public] education, which affects the quality of MPs, is so poor, when students only pay 50 pounds [$6.25] in yearly tuition fees. Egyptian families can afford to pay 300 [$37.50] instead of 50 pounds per year, thus increasing revenues, which would be reflected in the quality of the educational process, while exempting from the increase those students who cannot afford it.”
Hassan Nafaa, head of the political science department at Cairo University, said that at this point, parliament’s money, time and effort would be better spent ensuring its autonomy. “There are priorities in everything,” he told Al-Monitor.
“We would be better served if the primary goal here were to guarantee the independence of parliament in its decision-making process and its ability to perform its legislative role without interference from the executive branch,” Nafaa said. “The intellectual, organizational, financial and political independence of the legislative branch from its executive counterpart must be the main objective of MPs in the coming phase.”
He concurred that the idea of improving the performance of members of parliament is in the interest of the nation, but said such a development would be futile if decisions were dictated to members of parliament by the executive branch.
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