Unpaved roads, massive piles of garbage, repeated electricity blackouts and fuel and water shortages are just a few of the dozens of problems plaguing Egyptian neighborhoods, streets and homes. Citizens repeatedly complain about the government’s failure to provide basic services, while successive Cabinets have pointed the blame at the lack of funds and the citizen negligence and overconsumption.
The grassroots initiative Ma7liat suggests that the solution might just lie in fixing system governing the local councils and municipalities. Most of the problem areas President Mohamed Morsi promised to address in his the first 100 days — including traffic, security, cleanliness, fuel and bread — and the Freedom and Justice Party's Nahda project are related to local development and the authorities that local councils are supposed to have.
Local councils are the elected authorities that monitor the performance of local administrative employees such as governors, the district heads or the village mayors. Addressing matters that affect the everyday lives of citizens, local councils make plans and monitor their implementation by the executive authorities and administrative employees. Among the authorities of the local councils are paving and lighting of roads, making sure neighborhoods, cities, governorates and streets are clean and safe, establishing security, monitoring prices and markets and policing legal infractions that disrupt city life and others.
Courtesy Of Ma7liat
The law governing the local administrative system, law number 43 of 1979 and its amendments, has largely hindered the work of local councils. During Mubarak’s reign, most of the members of the local councils as well as the local administrative employees were either appointed by the government and the president, or were a part of the National Democratic Party (NDP). The law removed any type of real monitoring power from the councils and restricted their role to making non-binding suggestions to the executive authorities. The executive branches had the power to dissolve the elected councils any time they saw fit. Furthermore, the local councils’ ability to change the budgeting of projects was very restricted. With no oversight and very low wages for local employees and council members, the councils were one of the largest receivers of bribes in Egypt. From building permits to installing essential services, bribery got everything done much faster that taking the usual bureaucratic lengthy process.
With the ouster of Mubarak and his NDP came the chance for change. Ma7liat, or municipalities, is a grassroots initiative started by Mostafa Shouman in June 2011, in part to address the lack of general public awareness about the mission and tasks for the local councils and in part to address the lack of representation of youth in the parliament and in local administrative positions.
Ma7aliat tells Egypt Today that the initiative's first goal is to help reformulate the laws governing the local administrative system in an attempt to empower the local councils in their role as administrative overseers. Among the legislative changes the group wants are laws that give the councils real authority to monitor, question and even remove local administrative employees who do not perform up to standard; make the council members elected, not appointed officials; and cancel the right of the executive power to disband the popularly elected councils.
There is already political will for achieving this goal. Just before it was disbanded by the Supreme Constitutional Court, the People's Assembly was working on a new law for local councils that would give the local councils more powers, made the major local administrative employees elected officials, and restrict the executive authority for disbanding the councils. However, the draft law was not raised before the assembly before it was dissolved.
Courtesy Of Ma7liat
In the meantime, Ma7liat members are participating in workshops with the Ministry of Local Development, research centers and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working on revising the laws and the electoral process for local councils.
As their second goal, the group is trying to raise awareness about the local councils and their importance in development and in providing essential services. To date, there are some 900 Ma7liat volunteers conducting awareness campaigns in six governments, mainly in the urban areas of Cairo, Giza, and Alexandria. Harnessing the power of social networks such as Facebook Youtube, and Twitter, they regularly hold seminars, make animated videos, host events and distribute fliers in the streets to spread awareness about the importance of the local councils.
Ma7liat explains that the biggest challenges they’re facing are corruption and the lack of awareness, which requires much more volunteering effort to address.
“Almost no one actually knows how the municipal system in Egypt works, a lot of people don't even know what they are responsible for.
In all developed countries, decentralization is non-negotiable — that is decreasing the amount of steps needed, and people you need to go through, for a decision to be made thus decreasing the chances for corruption and increasing the effectiveness and speed of the decision making,” Ma7liat told us. “The current system in Egypt is quite the opposite of that. You go through the maximum number of steps, and therefore you face the maximum amount of corruption; almost 60% of the corruption in Egypt is found in the municipal system.”
Courtesy Of Ma7liat
The third goal is to promote civic participation of youth, women, people with disabilities and others who have been marginalized by society through training them via workshops and fieldwork to run for local councils and enabling them to recognize the problems facing Egyptian governorates, cities and villages.
“Traditionally, seniority rather than experience and capability was the decisive factor when picking the people in charge. We want to change that, we want the youth with their drive for success and their different mindset to be involved in our municipal system. That is why, for the first round of elections we are aiming to prepare 5000 candidates [from the youth] for the municipal elections,” Ma7liat explained. “We will carefully pick them, get ex-municipal members to teach them the logistics of the job and mentally and technically prepare them for the important job they will do. To do that we are working on creating work groups for each area. When these volunteer groups start to work and blossom they will create leaders [who] will generate cadres that will represent us in the upcoming elections.”
Ma7liat's final goal is to promote transparency with monitoring centers to report on the actual needs of neighborhoods and the performance of elected local councils serving the areas.
Ma7liat is currently working on “Bank El Dawa,” or the medicine bank, project. The volunteers will collect leftover medicine from homes and medicines that are close to their expiration dates from pharmacies and warehouses and distribute them to medical centers around the country for those in need.
Courtesy Of Ma7liat
“Most of these medicines either go bad or remain unused anyway, so it really is a waste because a lot of people desperately need the help,” Ma7liat told us. So we urge people to help us help those in need.”
The Way Forward
Elections for local councils were supposed to follow the presidential elections, but are on hold as a new constitution is being drafted and the courts debate the legality of the constitutional assembly and the Shura Council. Local council elections will likely occur shortly after the constitutional referendum and the parliamentary elections set to follow.
But the political parties aren't waiting. The Freedom and Justice, Wafd and the Dostour parties have issued statements saying that they are already starting to prepare internally for the elections and are planning to compete for seats in the local councils, which they believe are essentials to the process of development.
If the local councils become truly functional, life is going to be much easier not only for the president and his projects, but also for the Egyptian citizen who is increasingly exasperated from the lack of services. et
For more information about Ma7liat, visit its Facebook page,Twitter feed @Ma7liat, or webpage .