So you had a revolution…and now, you have the first democratically-elected parliament in sixty years. Today was the day when the new parliament was seated, and all of Egypt watched the spectacle in the hemi-circle parliament hall as newly-elected candidates stood up to take the oath of office- or didn’t. One presumably Salafi representative tried to put his own spin on the oath, which requires him to respect the republican system and the constitution. He was finally prevailed upon to read the oath as written, and the proceedings carried on smoothly from that point on.
So what does this new post-revolution parliament look like? As expected, there was a predominance of Muslim Brotherhood, stocky men in business suits, their facial hair neatly trimmed; but also the typical thin, long-bearded fundamentalist Salafis in robes; also a sprinkling of exotic men in red fezzes and odd dress, presumably Sufis. Then there were the sleek, clean-shaven representatives from the liberal parties, and the de rigeur fifty percent quota of ‘peasants and workers’, as per the existing constitution. Women were few; a cluster of them sat together front and center, in a rainbow of pastel hijabs: mauve, pink, blue.
For the liberal movements, as for the young revolutionaries who paid the price for this free election with blood and tears, the spectacle is bitter-sweet. They paid the price but saw the prize seized by the Islamist currents that had initially sat out the protests. But a young artist I spoke to yesterday at the opening of an exhibition at a gallery in Zamalek seemed to be optimistic. I was arrested by his large-scale painting of a woman lying on the ground, violated and near-naked, pain and dignity in her face; next to her on the ground were a riot police helmet and truncheon. The message was clear: the woman in the painting stood for all the women assaulted by the police and army since the revolution began.
The young artist in a black beret, an activist member of the new Tahrir Party, was not worried. “The Muslim Brotherhood will have to be pragmatic in office- the problems they are facing, economic especially, are so huge in scale that they will need all the allies they can get to spread the responsibility around. And in a year or two, at the next elections, we’ll be ready. We’ll claim our revolution.”