Is the “first political scandal of Egypt’s fledgling electoral democracy” a sign that the country’s turbulent transition is finally yielding normal democratic politics – with all its flaws?
Anwar al-Balkimy (left), a newly-elected Salafist parliamentarian, was today forced to resign after he admitted fabricating a story that he was beaten by masked assailants in order to cover up a nose job:
But not before a solemn parade of his fellow lawmakers — including the speaker of the Parliament, Saad el-Katatni of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s more mainstream Islamist movement — had visited Mr. Balkimy in his hospital room to express their sympathies. Also not before his colleagues in Al Nour had demanded the public questioning of the interior minister for his potential responsibility in the supposed attacks. State media reported that the ministry had sent a letter offering condolences.
Vain, self-aggrandizing and hypocritical politicians are, of course, as old as politics, even in Egypt. But for their foibles to blossom into public scandal requires conditions that are still a novelty here and elsewhere in the Arab world: lawmakers who win competitive elections with promises to honor their constituents, informants unafraid of extra-legal retribution from the powerful and a free press eager to expose the circus.
Balkimy (correction – right), a member of the ultra-conservative Nour Party, claimed he had needed facial reconstructive surgery after being attacked and robbed last week in a case which highlighted public concerns about growing insecurity.
The episode will be read by some analysts as the first sign of evidence that Islamists’ participation in democratic politics will inevitably subject their claims of ethical superiority to public scrutiny.
Other observers take a lighter view.
“We have always known that an individual could stick his nose in the people’s affairs,” one blogger wrote in the independent daily Al Masry Al Youm, noting that this is the first time we’ve seen the reverse.