The delegation of Egyptian Parliamentarians on the first day of their week in Copenhagen in front of Amalienborg Palace, home to the Danish royal family. The Foreign Affairs Committee spent a week in Copenhagen visiting various local and national governmental institutions to gain insights into Danish governance.
A delegation from the Egyptian Parliament gained a lot of inspiration during an exchange-trip to Copenhagen. A full day’s program at the Danish Ombudsman was the focal point.
By Rasmus Bøgeskov
When 13 selected members from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Egyptian parliament arrived in Copenhagen in the middle of May, it was the first trip for the committee since the outbreak of the Corona pandemic and the keenness to make the utmost of the visit was apparent.
“We are representing six different parties and half of the members come from the opposition parties,” the chairman of the committee, His Excellency Karim Darwish, said as he also pointed to the fact of female representatives making up 70% of the members of the delegation.
The program of the trip had been developed in cooperation with DEDI, as the Committee expressed interest in not only gaining deeper understanding of the Ombudsman Institution but also wished to meet with fellow politicians. Since Egypt will host the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27) in a few months, a visit to State of Green was arranged on the first day – after the walk around Amalienborg, the palace of the Danish royal family where her majesty the Queen and his majesty the crown prince are living, and the Marble Church.
State of Green is working to build international partnerships with Danish providers of solutions and insights within energy, water, cities and circular economy. A key lesson learned from the Danish experience is, that green business is good business and that it is possible to create economic growth and reduce consumption of water and electricity simultaneously: In the last four decades, the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has more than doubled while energy consumption has only increased by six pct. Over the same period, water consumption decreased by 40 pct.
“I am very impressed by the efforts of Denmark to improve the environment and reduce CO2 emissions even though it’s such a relatively small country,” Amira Saber said after having listened to the presentation by the director of State of Green, Finn Mortensen.
Amira Saber is Secretary General of the Foreign Affairs Committee and member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. She is also an alumna of DEDI’s program of civic participation, so this was her second visit to Denmark. Finn Mortensen is member of the Advisory Group of DEDI.
A visit to the Ombudsman
“I’m not trying to sell the ombudsman idea,” says Klavs Kinnerup Hede at the end of his presentation. He is a chief consultant at the Danish Ombudsman institution in Copenhagen, and wanted to stress that the way the Danish ombudsman operates will not necessarily work well in other countries.
“Don’t worry, the idea sells itself,” came the reply from the chairman of the committee, H.E. Karim Darwish.
The meeting took place at the oldest square in Copenhagen, Gammeltorv, where the Danish Ombudsman has its offices in a beautiful, neoclassical building constructed at the end of the 18th century. The Ombudsman is located in between parliament, ministries, and courts, reflecting its position as an intermediate.
A strong legal tradition
The creation of an institution that investigates complaints from citizens about the work of state institutions began in Sweden, and since then countries around the world have adopted the idea. The Danish Ombudsman institution has supported many countries in this endeavour. When doing so, experience clearly shows that it doesn’t make sense to copy-paste: Such an institution must be set-up so that it can function in each particular local context.
“Ombudsman” is an old Scandinavian word meaning a representative. In the age of democracy, the Ombudsman became the representative of the people, working to ensure that state institutions govern according to the law and don’t infringe on the rights of the citizens. The Danish institution of the Ombudsman is independent of the state and handles about 5500 complaints yearly from citizens who feel that they have been treated wrongfully.
Denmark established its Ombudsman institution in the 1950s.
87,000 complaints in one month
In Egypt there is no Ombudsman institution as such, but the idea is not foreign. At the meeting in Copenhagen, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee had brought with him a book in Arabic.
“The book is titled ‘The Ombudsman’,” H.E. Karim Darwish said as he raised the book in the air. “It was written in 1971 by a lady that was at that time the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She was a great advocate of the Ombudsman, and she also happens to be my mother,” he revealed.
Laila Takla was her name, and in the book, she compares different experiences from Ombudsmen around the world, and argues for the need to have an Ombudsman institution in Egypt.
“She did not manage to implement the full system of the Ombudsman, but we do have different institutions today who are applying the same concepts. It is now up to the discretion of every member of this delegation to try to achieve what she was unable to,” said H.E. Karim Darwish.
The Egyptian parliament currently receives thousands of complaints from its citizens. In January this year, the number of complaints reached 87,000 in a single month.
“We try to solve the issues of the citizens as much as we can, but I believe there really should be a separate institution to deal with these complaints, so that parliamentarians can focus on their main duties,” suggested H.E. Karim Darwish.
They must be angels
If Egypt was to establish an Ombudsman institution, it could find some inspiration in Denmark. But Egypt would also need to look elsewhere.
“In many areas you should not look to the Danish legislation as a good example,” said Klavs Kinnerup Hede.
He explained that the legislation for the Danish ombudsman has no clear criteria for who can be elected as the Ombudsman and that it is the Danish parliament that appoints and finances the Ombudsman. This prompted Amira Saber to ask how the Ombudsman can remain independent of parliament.
“As with other things in Denmark, we don’t make rules unless we find there is a problem. And since all Ombudsmen have been regarded as independent and objective, we have made no further rules or criteria. We have also not experienced any interference from parliamentarians in our work. They could do so, but we have never experienced it,” explained Klavs Kinnerup Hede.
“They must be angels,” Shaimaa Halawa, an independent member of Parliament, remarked, sparking laughter in the room.
Meanwhile, spending a full day at the Ombudsman on Gammel Torv only made Amira Saber keen to deepen her understanding:
“I want to study the Danish example further. During the presentation I was comparing in my mind between the Danish and the Egyptian system. We have several entities that try to do the same job as the Ombudsman, but it was great to learn about a different example. We need to look more into the inconveniences in our current system, and what we can learn from the Danish ombudsman,” Amira Saber said.
The Egyptian parliamentarians were also pleased by the honesty in the presentation.
“What I liked today was the very balanced and transparent presentation, describing both the advantages and the flaws of the Danish ombudsman,”
commented H.E. Karim Darwish.
The following day, two of the meetings were held at the Danish Foreign Ministry with Christina Markus Lassen, Political Director, Under Secretary for Foreign Policy and the Danish Ambassador and Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Michael Suhr respectively.
The official program ended with a full day at Christianborg Palace, the seat of the Danish parliament, “Folketinget”. Independent member of the Danish parliament, Nasser Khader, introduced the delegation to the history and the present work of the parliamentarians and took the delegation to the chamber. Seated high up in the distinguished visitor’s gallery, the delegation got a glimpse of ongoing debates.
As member of the Danish Committee on Foreign Affairs, Nasser Khader was also present during the very last meeting, when the Egyptian delegation met with some of their Danish counterparts.
“Egypt is a very important country, and we highly appreciate the positive role Egypt is playing in the region,” Danish chairman, Bertel Haarder said. Bertel Haarder has served as minister for several terms and been a member of the Danish Parliament since 1977.
Besides the official program, the delegation also took advantage of the opportunity to meet with a group of Egyptians living in Denmark of whom many are successful as business people, physicians, engineers etc. As the flight back to Cairo was scheduled in the afternoon, it allowed for some of the members to attend a service at the Coptic church in the morning, thus completing the circle of meetings in Denmark.
Parliamentarians Delegation in Copenhagen:
H.E. Karim Darwish, Head of Delegation, Future of a Nation Party
M.P. Amira Saber, Egyptian Social Democratic Party
M.P. Dina Ismail, Independent member
M.P. Seham Kotb, Future of a Nation Party
M.P. Ghada Agamy, Modern Egypt Party
M.P. Shaimaa Halawa, Future of a Nation Party
M.P. Heba George, Future of a Nation Party
M.P. Sawsan Hosny, New Wafd Party
M.P. Abdallah Aly, Future of a Nation Party
M.P. Asmaa ElGamaal, New Wafd Party
M.P. Tarek Elkhouly, Future of a Nation Party
M.P. Alaa Essam, National Progressive Unionist Party
M.P. Elaria Samir, Republican People’s Party
This project was managed by Civic Partnerships Program Manager Rana Khamis and DEDI Coordinator Pernille Bramming.