By Ahmed Tanikhy
From October 9 - 19, Egypt will host the fourth session of the Pan African Parliament, which coincides with Egypt’s celebration of 150th anniversary of the establishment of its parliament.
Writers and critics stressed in their writings on the fact that Mohammad Ali (1769 - 1849) is the founder of the modern Egyptian state and the reviver of its renaissance. His era (1805 - 1848) witnessed reforms in various aspects of political, economic, social and cultural fields. Moreover, he established the army along with its military school and the marine shipyard in Alexandria.
Mohammed Ali improved agriculture and irrigation as he established abridges, dams and canals. He set up the industrial foundation and sent the missions to Europe.
Origin and composition:
In 1824, Mohammed Ali thought about the creation of a council that aids his government through consultations, therefore, he formed the High Council to serve as the first parliamentary council.
It consisted, at the time, of 156 members; 33 come from the high-ranking government employees and Ulamas, 24 province chiefs, while the rest (99 members) composed by Egyptian dignitaries.
The population of Egypt was 2.56 million; meaning that each parliamentary deputy represented 17,000 citizens.
The right to propose issues under discussion:
On January 3, 1825, the High Council issued a basic statute. It included three main aspects to be discussed by the Council. The first aspect tackled whatever Mohammad Ali suggested concerning his domestic policies. The second tackled the proposals made by the Chairman of the Council, the ministers and the government employees to consider its pros and cons. The third aspect tackled the stakeholders’ problems that might face them during doing their jobs. The High Council consisted of the Secretary General, Turkish-Arabic languages translators, clerks and assistants.
The value of the Council
Mohammad Ali paid all the due attention to this council. In this respect, he was keen to attend its sessions when discussing important laws on tightening security and order in the country. This special concern was also manifested in giving it many names like: The High Council Khedive Consultative Council, Advisory Council of Representatives, Shura Council, Higher Council, Public Council, Egyptian Council of Representatives , among others.
The Council was first convened in the Citadel Palace, then in the High Council. When Cholera broke out in Egypt, the sessions were held in tents near the Shubra Palace, where the members used to spend their nights there.
In his book "Era of Mohammad Ali Pasha" (P.516/517) Al-Rafe'i mentions that the year 1829 had witnessed the formation of the Consultation Council; which is the High Council in terms of formation. The first session was held on September 2, 1829 at Ibrahim Pasha Palace (High Palace) which is currently located in Garden City, Cairo.
Subjects tackled by the council:
The ordinary sessions of the High Council were held annually for two and a half months. Thirteen years later, on May 13, 1837, Mohammad Ali issued a decree resolving the Council.
According to the previously mentioned book of Al-Rafe'i, the Council used to discuss matters closely related to education, works and judiciary. Most of these matters were proposed by the Council’s members. Its first resolution was on education; i.e., establishing a bureau for teaching the Diwan’s clerks both the Arabic and Turkish languages. When a number of clerks are taught such languages, they are sent to the provinces and others come to be taught and so on until all clerks are qualified to administer the governmental interests.
The High Council’s resolutions also included that farmers shall work on cleaning water channels, building and repairing bridges during the months of September, October, December, January, February, March and June since the farmers are busy, all through the other months of the year, in cultivating and harvesting cotton. This is in addition to providing job opportunities in the State-owned factories for beggars on daily wages. Such resolution had a great impact on boosting the learning of industries as well as combating unemployment.
The Council also discussed the punishment of both employees and chiefs of villages in case they are proved to accept any bribe or seize people’s money. In this respect, the Council decided to force them to pay back the amount of money they had taken and impose deterrent penalties upon them.
It is noteworthy that the High Council, as reported by some historians, had not only the legislative authority but also an executive and a judicial authority concerning the management of the Egyptian provinces.
The writer is the head of Press at the Egypt’s Embassy in Uganda