23 October 2017 08:35 PM

The Evolution of the Parliamentary Life in Egypt in 150 Years

Tuesday، 11 October 2016 - 03:20 PM

1. Advisory Council of Representatives in 1866 ... Key Facts and Deep-Rooted Traditions

 

By: Dr. Ahmad Abul-Hassan Zarad

After the dissolution of the High Council in 1837, Egypt remained until 1866 without a real Parliament. The Privy Council created in 1847, enacted laws and regulations. On October 22, 1866, it issued the Articles of Association and the Statute of the Advisory Council of Representatives.[1]

Hereunder, the basic features of the Advisory Council of Representatives are displayed in terms of origin, composition, membership criteria, the electorate, the three parliamentary terms, which lasted for thirteen years (1866-1879), and a set of parliamentary traditions, which are still mostly valid until now.[2]

First: Advisory Council of Representatives... Key Features

The Advisory Council of Representatives was founded in 1866 in the reign of Khedive Ismail (January 18, 1863-June 26, 1879). He laid down the foundations of this Council on two statues; the first had eighteen articles which determined its power, election method and the schedule of meetings. The second was the 61 Statutory Regulations, where the two determined the basic features of the Council from the following perspectives:[3]

Composition of the Council:

The Council consisted of 75 representatives, elected for a 3-year term by villages mayors and chiefs, or by the dignitaries in Cairo, Alexandria and Damietta.

The number of representatives in each province was determined according to the number of population. Either one or two representatives was elected for each district according to its size, in addition to three representatives for Cairo, two for Alexandria, and one for Damietta. The population of Egypt that time was 5036000 inhabitants, having a ratio of a representative per 66 thousand.

Qualifications of Membership:

Whoever was qualified to be a representative, should be an Egyptian, a "wise and sane" character, a literate, aged twenty-five years at least, should not be imprisoned over criminal offences or convicted of bankruptcy, or dismissed from the state civil service by virtue of a court ruling.

Balloting and Votes Sorting:

The election of the representatives was held in the capital of each directorate. The voter elected the member who was representing his district. Sorting of votes was entrusted to the committee composed of the manager and chief of public prosecution, and the judge of the directorate.

 Mayors and Dignitaries… Exclusive Deputies in the Parliament:[4]

The mayors formed the majority in the elected Councils in 1866, 1870 and 1876; as they occupied 57 seats in the 1866 Council, 63 in the 1870 Council, and 60 in the 1876 Council, whereas the rest of the members were the dignitaries.

This representation was, of course, due to that the right to vote in the rural districts (governorates) was limited to the mayors in accordance with the provisions of the articles of association of the (Election Law). Whereas, the right to vote in Cairo, Alexandria, and Damietta constituencies (the so-called the constituencies of the cities) was exclusively granted to the dignitaries.

Meetings of the Council

The Council used to meets annually in Cairo from mid December to mid February in closed sessions. The previous council used to meet in Cairo from November to January. The Khedive had the right to call the council to convene, delay or prolong the time of the meeting, or resolve the council and run new elections (Article 16, 17 of the Statute).

The Extraordinary Meeting of the Advisory Council of Representatives

In August 1877, an extraordinary session of the Advisory Council of Representatives had been held in Tanta on the occasion of the Birthday of Sheikh al-Sayed al-Badawi. The purpose of this meeting was to cancel or adopt the law of the cultivated lands tax5, based on the fact that on May 7, 1876 a decree had stipulated to repeal the law.

However, due to its financial hardships, the government had decided to re-enforce the law so as to reap the proceeds of this law. The landholders, who had already paid the installments, including the members of parliament, were keen to apply the law to keep enjoying the exemptions imposed on their lands.[5]

Appointment of the Speaker and the Deputy

The appointment of both the Speaker and his deputy was the responsibility of the Khedive only without taking the opinion of the Council (Article 3 of the Regulatory Statute).

Penalities on Absent Members with no Excuse

The Council had the right to decide penalties on members absent without an excuse (Article 12 of the Regulatory Statute). Thereupon, the rate of attendance of the members was high; thus proving the vitality of the Council. In this vein, a representative once told the council he couldn’t attend a session for his illness, thereupon; another representative sent a letter to the province of the sick representative asking the senior physician to check the health condition of this representative; the matter which received the consent of the Council.[6]

Parliamentary Immunity

The representatives enjoyed a parliamentary immunity; they never face any criminal proceedings, except in the case of a murder crime (Article 53 of the Regulatory Statute).

Resolutions are by Majority, With Respect to the Counter Opinion

The Speaker of the Council runs the sessions. Any representative is not allowed to speak without taking the permission, and he only speaks in his seat. Resolutions are issued through taking opinions in public and by the majority of votes. The Council should also respect and take into account the opposing opinion (Article 35 of the Regulatory Statute; one of the main pillars in the parliamentary system).

Second: Advisory Council of Representatives… Main Facts

The Advisory Council of Representative lasted for three terms (1866-79)[7], during which it was held in its ordinary form, except one extraordinary that was held in August 1876 in Tanta[8]. The Council’s members were 75 and just appointed one.

1-    The First Parliamentary Term (1866-69)[9]

The first session was convened on Rajab 17, A.H., i.e., November 25, under the chairmanship of Ismail Ragheb Pasha, and was concluded on Wednesday, Ramadan 18, 1283 A.H., i.e., January 24, 1876 A.D.

The second session was held on Monday Dhul-Qaeda 12, 1284 A.H., i.e., January 28, 1868 A.D. under the chairmanship of Abdallah Ezzat Pasha, and was concluded on Saturday, Safar 1, 1285 A.H., i.e., May 23, 1868 A.D.

 The third session was convened on Thursday, Shawwal 15, 1285 A.H., i.e., January 28, 1868 A.D.  under the chairmanship of Abdallah Ezzat Pasha, and was concluded on Monday Dhul-Hijja 9, 1285 A.H., i.e., March 22, 1869 A.D.

2-    The Second Parliamentary Term (1870-73 A.H.)

The second term of the Council (the first ordinary session) was held on Tuesday, Shawwal 24, 1286 A.H., i.e., February 1, 1870 A.D., under the chairmanship of Abd Allah Ezzat Pasha, and concluded its sessions on Thursday Dhul-Hijja 29, 1286 A.H, i.e., March 31, 1870 A.D.

The Council held the first meetings of  its second term on Saturday 22nd Rabi ath-Thani 1288 AH, i.e. June 10th 1871 AD under the chairmanship of Abu Bakr Rateb Pasha and ended its sessions on Sunday 19 Jumada I 1288 AH, i.e. August 9th 1871 AD.

And the third year of its second term started on Sunday 27th Dhu'lqa`da, 1289AH, i.e. 26th January, 1873 AD under the chairmanship of Abu Bakr Rateb Pasha and ended its sessions on Monday 25th Muharram, 1290 AD, i.e. March 24th, 1873 AD.

Two-Year Parliamentary Suspension

The Council has not been convened for two successive years, namely 1874 and 1875. It didn't either hold new elections after its second term had been ended. This is, as reported by Al Raf'ie, goes back to the financial dilemma as the government did not want the representatives to engage in decision-making and intended not to let them acquainted with the true financial status.

The Council's Third Term (1876-1879 AD)

The first ordinary session of the Council's third term was held on Thursday, 7th Dhu'lqa`da 1293, i.e. November 23rd, 1876 under the chairmanship of Abdullah Ezzat Pasha. And it was concluded on Wednesday 3rd Jumada al-Awwal, 1294 AH, i.e. May 16th 1877 AD.

The second ordinary session was held on Thursday 24th Rabi-ul-Awwal, 1295 AH, i.e. March 28th 1878 under the chairmanship of Kasim Rasmy Pasha, followed by Gaafar Mazhar Pasha. And it was concluded on Thursday 26th Jumada al-Thani, 1295 AH, i.e. June 27th, 1878 AD.

The third ordinary session was held on Thursday 9th Muharram, 1296 AH, i.e. January 2nd, 1879 AD under the chairmanship of Ahmed Rashid Pasha, followed by Hassan Rostom Pasha. And it was concluded on Sunday 16th Rajab, 1296 AH, i.e. June 15th, 1879 AD.

Advisory Council of Representatives … The Setting of many Parliamentary Traditions

The Council witnessed the creation of many parliamentary traditions that came into force later, and some of which are deeply-rooted in the incumbent parliamentary life. On top of these traditions is the Address of the Throne, it was also called the Article of the Throne, which the Khedive used to deliver on the Council's Opening Ceremony that was attended by a group of princes and the Elite. Then a committee was composed to respond to the Address. These traditions, also, included the parliamentary immunity and the principle of governmental responsibility.

1-    The Address of the Throne and the Council's Reply

The Council, opened during the era of Khedive Ismail (1863-1879), held its first session on Sunday 25th November 1866 at the Citadel under the chairmanship of Ismail Ragheb Pasha, who was assigned as the first speaker.

Khedive Ismail inaugurated the opening ceremony by delivering the Address of the Throne, to which the Council has to submit its respond without asserting any of the issues that shall be discussed by the Council, according to Article no.4 and 5 of the statute. The ceremony was attended by all members of the government including Prime Minister Sherif Pasha, Minister of Interior, Minister of Finance Hafez Pasha, Chief of the Council of State Abdallah Ezzat Pasha, Provinces Inspector Ismail Pasha Sedeeq, the Keeper of the Seal Riyad Pasha, the Government Clerk Ahmed Khairy Bek.

 

Al Raf'ie's Description of the Khedive's First Address of the Throne

Al Rafie; Egypt’s prominent historian, described the Khedive's first Address of Throne as one of the most important documents in the parliamentary life of Egypt saying: "In general, the address included short meaningful sentences that stated the principles of the regime, praised its advantages and benefits and declared that the aim of the regime is to achieve the people's interests”.

Just as most historians, who studied this first address, they, also, probed the Khedive's Address of the Throne, which his Majesty delivered on Thursday 28th January 1869 at the opening of the third session of the Council's first term. They described it as the longest and most comprehensive of all as it included the Khedive's achievements and works since his coronation until 1869.

For example, in this Address, the Khedive mentioned the decrease in the water level of the Nile, the efforts exerted by the government and the means adopted to deal with such decrease. His Majesty, also, talked about the financial loans in addition to the money spent on the works of construction and railway, referring to the construction works in Sudan, such as extending cable lines from Suakin and Massawa to Khartoum.

Reply to the Throne’s Address

The head of the Advisory Council chooses a number of the members to reply to that address, those members who were entrusted to refute it were always praising much the Khedive and his address and they were exaggerating in their words that were suggestive to be a form of flattery. However, historians stood long before the reply to the address on January 6, 1879, when the members emphasised the ministerial responsibility principle before the parliament.

2-    The Council's Committees (Aqlam):

There is another tradition adopted by the Advisory Council represented in forming the council's committees or what was so called "Aqlam" where the council selects the committees members to check the validity of their membership and present its decisions on the council's board.  Then, what was chosen by the council will put before the Khedive to take the order by approving his membership.

These committees are the Capitals’ Committee "Madaen", Gharbia and Menoufiya representatives Committee "Rawdat Al Bahrain", Sharqia and Daqahlia representatives Committee, Assiut and Minya Committees.

There is another job for these committees, which is electing other panels to discuss the issues minor referred by the council when necessary. The composition of these panels is through choosing one member from each of the five committees.  

3- Parliamentary Immunity:

It is another parliamentary tradition the members benefitted from. The council's regulations stipulated that no criminal case will be brought about against the council's members during its session unless the member committed murder or was arrested red handed.

4-The Council's Members Attend in "Dress Code":

This is another tradition in the council's regulations as it determined the kind of clothes worn by a member of the council to be in dress code and to sit down in a decent way (Article 40). Moreover, any member was not allowed to publish the Council's discussions or print them without a permission from the speaker, otherwise he would be liable to a penalty imposed by the Council (Article 54).

5- Ministerial Responsibility Principle:

The responsibility of the government before the parliament is one of the parliament system properties. This principle was enforced in Egypt for the first time in 1879 in Ismail era. Consequently, the cabinet of Sherif Pasha that was formed on April 7, 1879 was the first one questioned before the parliament. 

Based on the above mentioned fact, Osman Al Hermeel ; the member of the council told the meeting of the Advisory Council in Tanta in August 1876 that the council did not debate the government budget last year in spite of its right to know ways of collecting the revenues and expenditures. Also, to know how the government obtains loans, volume of Egypt's debts due to repay them over 65 years according to the unified debt decree. So, if the council agrees, these data will be demanded to be discussed by the council[10].    

Conclusion:

Briefly, the Advisory Council that was held for 13 years was the real beginning of the Egyptian parliamentary system. It laid through the legal rules and actual practices a package of well-established parliamentary traditions at top of which the Address of the throne and the council’s reply (equal to the government’s policy statement and the parliament’s reply nowadays).This is in addition to the principle of the ministerial responsibility. The early signs of applying this principle was at the end of the council's time in 1879.

It is noted that the literacy condition as a base to obtain the membership of the Council at that time was not practically applied, as the council recessed after thirteen years, and the regulation stipulated that this condition would be effective after eighteen years to give the opportunity for spreading education in the country.

Moreover, the Council held ordinary sessions except for an extraordinary one held in Tanta on the occasion of the Birthday of Sheikh "Al Sayed Al Badawi". However, the parliamentary activities were disrupted in 1874 and 1875 as the government intentionally did not inform the representatives the reality of the financial status in the country.     

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[1] Mohammad Khalil Sobhi, The Evolution of Parliamentary Life in Egypt Since the Era of His Eminence Mohammed Ali Pasha, Cairo, Dar El-Kotob Publishing House, 1993, Chapter VI, P. 16

[2] The preparation of this article relies on the following sources:

- Mohammad Khalil Sobhi, The Evolution of Parliamentary Life in Egypt, Cairo, Many Parts, Dar El-Kotob Publishing House

- Abdel Rahman El-Rafei, The Reign of Ismail Pasha, Part II, Cairo, Al-Nahda Publishing House, 1932, Edition I

- Dr. Saeda Mohammad Hosni, the Minutes of Meetings of Advisory Council of Representatives, First Legislative Term 1866-1869, Part I, Abdel Razeq Eissa, Cairo, Dar El-Kotob Publishing House in Cairo, 2001

- The Minutes of Meetings of Advisory Council of Representatives, Second Legislative Term 1870-1873, Part II, Dr. Hossam Mohammad Abdel Moeti, Supervision of: Dr. Saeda Mohammad Hosni

- The Minutes of Meetings of Advisory Council of Representatives, Third Legislative Term 1876-1879, Part III, Dina Abdel Hamid Mohammad, Dar El-Kotob Publishing House in Cairo, 2001

[3] Abdel Rahman El-Rafei, Ibid, P. 92-95

[4]This document depends on the following sources:

-  Abdel Rahman El-Rafei, Ibid, P. 93

-  Dr. Abdallah Azabawi, Mayors of Egyptian Villages in the Nineteenth Century, Cairo, Dar El-Ketab El-Jamei Publishing House, 1985, P. 129

[5] Abdel Rahman El-Rafei, ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Council had been dissolved in 1874-75

[8] Egyptian Gazette issue no. 671, 672, August 20/21, 1876

[9] Mohamed Khalil Sobhi, History of Parliamentary Life in Egypt, ibid

[10]Al Rafaei, Ibid refrence p.164-165

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