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Strengthening the Dialogue among Civil Society, the Parliament and the Government in the Arab world

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This position paper I presented as the head of the Egyptian delegation to the international conference; "Strengthening the Role of Parliament in Addressing the Social Impact of Economic Reforms and Promoting E-Parliament in Egypt, Iraq and
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  󰀱 Arab Republic of Egypt IPALMO Egyptian Cabinet Presidency “Strengthening the Dialogue between Civil Society, the Parliament and the Government in the Arab world” Ahmed Mohamed M. Aref Senior Researcher, Egyptian Prime Minister’s Office The Egyptian Representative First of all, I would like to express my sincere greeting and appreciation to the Republic of Italy which has deep-rooted friendly relations with the Arab states and always supports the democratization and developmental processes in the Arab World. Egypt is always keen to consolidate this friendly relation with Italy which is reinforced over the years. And special thanks are to IPALMO, which plays a very important role in strengthening Arab-Italian relations via organizing workshops, conferences, meetings and studies to benefit from the Italian experience in a way of supporting the developmental process in the Arab World culturally and intellectually. This session “Strengthening the Dialogue between Civil Society, the Parliament and the Government in the Arab World”; is considered to be a very important topic for the Arab region, especially at the current time, which can be characterized as a revolutionary stage which overturns regimes and build up others. Inevitably, this has many repercussions on the overall international interactions, whether on the short or long term. Hence, strengthening the dialogue between civil society, the parliament and the government in the Arab World has been a necessity, as the dialogue between the  󰀲 three bodies is rooted at the heart of the democratic process. Where the parliament is the legislative tool, and the members of the parliament are representatives of the  people’s will, the government is the executive tool for implementing legislations, and the civil society can be considered as the connecting bridge between the social structure and the state. The issue of activating the dialogue in regards faces some problems; which can be categorized into the following three axes: 1-   Problems related to the nature of civil society in the Arab World: 1.1.   Lack of civil society’s knowledge about the legislation process. They do not know how to play a role in representing the people’s demands and to have an influence on policies and the Parliament Members. 1.2.   Civil society organizations have suffered over the years in almost of Arab countries from the governments’ ascendances. The government is always intervening in permitting the establishment of such organizations, and as well intervening in their work in the society; attempting to marginalize them and restrict funding. There is no doubt that the sovereign states should codify the work of civil society organizations in a framework of the law, but at the end this framework should not be as a restriction which limits civil society to play its desired role. 2-   Problems related to the Parliament: 2.1.   Almost members of parliament are concentrating on the direct interests of their constituency, other than practicing the supposed legislative role. On the other hand, the constituency citizens themselves are looking for a candidate who can offer them direct interests and services regardless evaluating his legislative role in the Parliament. This is very clear in the electoral districts  󰀳 which are characterized by low levels of development and high levels of  poverty and illiteracy. 2.2.   Weakness of legislative and supervisory role of the Parliament in almost of Arab countries. In many cases, the Parliament can be a tool in the hand of the Ruling Party to pass the laws with a nominal opposition. 3-   Problems related to the Government: 3.1.   As already explained at the previous point, the relationship between the executive and legislative branches in many Arab countries; is in the favor of the executive branch. Governments are usually passing laws through a symbolical parliament. 3.2.   Consistent with the pattern of governments in the one-party systems, these governments do not often open the means to communicate directly with the  public and civil society. If there are forms of dialogue, it is always characterized by formality and it aims to improve the image of the political system to look democratic without real improvement in the substance. In light of the above-introduced problems, there are some recommendations that can contribute positively in creating an effective dialogue between civil society, the parliament and the government in the Arab world. Shedding the light on the Egyptian case particularly here is very important to take such dialogue into consideration during the current establishment of the new democratic order. 1-   Civic training courses Such programs teach citizens their political rights and duties, the role of the  parliament and the government and how the citizen can participate influentially in his society. These training courses should not be limited only for citizens that have the right to  󰀴 vote, but it should be extended to include the first stages of education, aiming to raise awareness of their rights and duties. 2-   Strengthening the technical abilities of civil society organizations: That will be through organizing training courses to empower civil society organizations; to increase their awareness of their supposed role in representing  people’s demands and to deal effectively with the parliament and the government. 3-   Arranging listening sessions to the public: Before the parliament initiate the law, there can be listening sessions to the public, it can be formal or informal to know the public’s opinion; to take it into consideration. 4-   Arranging sessions to discuss the bills between members of Parliament and specialists: The Parliament members have diverse educational and cultural backgrounds, so it would be more appropriate to arrange discussion sessions concerning the bills;  between members of Parliament, academics and experts. 5-   Organizing training courses for MPs, Parliament and Government Officials: There should be training courses for MPs to raise their awareness of their supposed legislative role they have to play. Also, there should be training courses for administrative staff of Parliament and Government to strengthen their abilities and to raise their awareness of the objectives and methods of cooperation with civil society organizations towards strengthening the dialogue between Civil Society, the parliament and the Government. 6-   Activating the parliament’s website: There has to be a mechanism for communication and interaction with the public and the civil society over the parliament’s website, not only informing citizens about the parliamentary work through it.  󰀵 7-   Independent media coverage for the parliamentary work: It is noticed that the media coverage of parliament sessions in almost of Arab countries are carried out by state-owned media. So, there should be independent media coverage with analytical reports for citizens in order to have well understanding about what is going on in parliament. 8-   Establishing of a permanent mechanism for communication between government, parliament and citizens: That might be through activating service offices for citizens in each cabinet of government and to open a two ways communication website. Through the previous mentioned recommendations, there can be a way to a have a constructive, civilized and effective dialogue between Civil Society, the Parliament and the Government which at the final analysis will strengthen the essence of the desired democratic systems in the Arab world.
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