CAIRO: The Arab world's first regional parliament held its inaugural meeting in Cairo yesterday but officials say it could be many years before the new institution gains enough clout to influence events in the region.
The 88 members, four from the parliaments or advisory councils of each Arab League member, met at the league's Cairo headquarters for a session addressed by Secretary-General Amr Moussa and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The interim parliament has no binding legislative authority and can give its opinion only on matters referred to it by the Arab League council, which represents Arab governments. Based in Syria, it will meet twice a year.
Mubarak called the inaugural session "a historical occasion which opens new horizons for joint Arab action".
But Rawhi Fattouh, speaker of the Palestinian legislature, said the parliament would be valuable only if it kept an eye on the actions of Arab governments.
"It must be a monitor of Arab executive institutions, but if it is just a union of parliaments then it's not going to be important," he told reporters at the meeting.
The concept of the Arab parliament was part of a package of institutional changes promoted by Moussa as a way to make the Arab League a stronger and more effective institution.
But Arab heads of state have not approved other aspects of the package, including an Arab court of justice and an Arab security council to handle regional disputes.
The new interim parliament has five years to draft the arrangements for a permanent Arab parliament.
In one of its first decisions yesterday, it chose liberal Kuwaiti Mohammed Jassim al-Saqr as its speaker, said Arab League spokesman Alaa Rushdi. Saqr, who has been head of the Kuwaiti parliament's foreign relations committee, has an initial term of one year, the Egyptian state news agency MENA said.
Arab League officials say they hope the permanent parliament will eventually have teeth, possibly through direct elections similar to those held for the European parliament.
"It's only a start, but the European parliament started small too. It's part of a trend away from an Arab League which exclusively represents governments," one official said.
Under Moussa in recent years, the Arab League has increasingly brought civil society groups into discussions.
"We have several regional parliaments the European Parliament and the African Parliament. The Arab Parliament will be looking at them and their experiences and what they can learn from them," said spokesman Rushdi.
Source: China Daily Xinhua