Egyptian Representatives

First Egyptian parliament session after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak

In the time that Egypt was controlled by the British, the Egyptians saw a contradiction between their representatives’ views and the views of those with power. Democracy was hindered by foreign influence, class differences, and strategic military placement.

The three major groups that participated in the recent revolution have had a history with representation. Before the British rule, Islamic elders – Ulama – were the political representatives of the people. The liberal elite are by definition divided from most Egyptians by class. And when the military does not represent the people, the strongest force is always held by foreign armies. Britain was able to continue controlling Egypt after its independence by leaving its army on Egyptian soil.

Thirteen years after the Denshawai Incident, the Wafd party sent representatives to the Paris peace conference. These men were arrested and exiled by the British, sparking the 1919 Revolution. However, the people lost faith in the Wafd party when it eventually was seen as accepting of British rule.

Until 1879, Egypt’s cabinet was controlled by its two European members – who could veto any of Egypt’s actions. This situation was approved by Ismail Pasha, Egypt’s Khedive who also sold Egypt to England with the Suez Canal. The Egyptian political scene was a personal one, and the English did what they needed to benefit from it. Once the people communicated through their rioting that a foreign cabinet was unacceptable, Ismail relented. He was then deposed by the British.

The people of Egypt can force themselves to be represented by holding a carnival of chaos. Songs are one of the best means of political communication for an illiterate majority. And their leaders will not oppose the foreigners to represent them unless they have no choice.

With the Free Officers’ 1952 rebellion, the British military superiority in Egypt was no longer a major influence on Egyptian representation. However, Nasser’s government became corrupt and distant from the people’s interests.

Just as how a Western view of secularization may not work in the context of Egypt, perhaps a Western view of democratic representation is incorrect for Egypt. Westerners desire secularization when what they really want is social and religious freedom. Egyptians desire an end to corruption, but it is difficult to be represented through established corruption.