Egyptian People’s Assembly increases majority

Egypt has undergone huge political turmoil in the last five years, and its parliament building has had to adapt to meet the growing needs of a new government.

When  Egypt’s new parliament was inaugurated on January 10, 2016, a result of elections held in November and December of 2015, it was the first time in three years the parliament had sat.

Its  home,  the  Egyptian  People’s  Assembly  in Cairo  was  built  more than  100 years ago and refurbished extensively in 2002.  A combination of  time  passing  and  changes  to  the  Egyptian constitution has  seen integrators Egyptian Engineering  Projects (Quality) enlisted to renovate and upgrade the Main Hall.   

Quality was brought into the job as it had worked with the  consultant  (actually the  government  of ministry  of  communication and  information) several  times  before.  Quality was involved in AV projects in 2002  on  the  original  project and again in 2009 when it completed a voting system installation project in the Shura Council (the upper house of the parliament, which was abolished in 2013) building.  

The client contacted Quality because it wanted to add modern voting facilities to become a centre piece of the Main Hall.  Added to that, Quality  were  asked  to  supply  new  displays  (to view the voting results) and recording systems for both audio and video. “It was called an upgrade, but really it’s a new installation,” says Adel Attia, owner  and  managing  director,  Quality.  “We worked closely with the consultant to interpret the  parliamentary  requirements  of  the  systems required and how they related to products and specifications.” 

Work started in September 2014 with the design phase, with Quality scheduled to hand over the project in April 2015.  When Quality began the project it was working on delivering a voting and conference systems for 454 members of parliament.  Before the project reached its end date, a decision was made to increase the number of MPs to be more proportional to the number of voters per each parliamentary seat.   This meant the project end date was pushed back to the end of 2015 and Quality now had to provide systems for 597 MPs.

The  brief  from  the  client  to  Quality  was  for an  integrated  conference  voting  system,  so the voting systems works in tandem with RFiD cards,  touchscreens,  room  control  systems  and videowalls.  Quality chose RFiD card readers so the MPs could register easily upon entering the hall, but also used them to vote with.  The RFiD cards also double up as security cards.  

To vote an MP has to place his/her RFiD card on to the Brahler conferencing system in front of them. Once everyone has voted the results are shown on an NEC videowall, consisting of 55-in  LCD  panels, behind the stage on which the chairman sits. This videowall can also be used by each delegate if they want to use any additional materials in  a speech, presentation or debate.  

An intercom system works between the chairman and his assistants.  The voting system is linked to the main database of the parliament (via LAN installed by Quality) so it can show information of  that  particular  delegate  to  the  chairman before  he  gives  the  MP  the  right  to  speak  or not.  The name is displayed on the chairman’s touchscreen,  alongside  information  about  that member  which  has  been  extracted  from  the parliament  database.     

To  further  complicate matters on a technological front, all 600 MPs sit on circular benches, not individual seats.  Each seating position also has to cater for a bespoke microphone,  designed specifically for  the Main Hall, because each speaker has to stand to speak.  

Working  on  a  building  more  than  100  years old  anywhere  in  the  world  has  its  problems, as any integrator will attest.  And this project, with the Main Hall surrounded by antique wood panelling  on  all  sides,  was  no  different,  says Attia.

“We had to be very careful where we put cables  in  the  Main  Hall.  It required  a  careful design in cooperation with the architect on the project.”  Was there a good relationship with the architect on this project? “There are always issues between the technical side and the architectural requirements,” says Attia.

“For example  we  were  already  in the  middle  of  designing  the conference units when  the architect came in said they had to  be  brown  instead  of  silver, so it match the wood panelling and tables in the room. So we had to change them.”

Attia continues: “Due to the historic nature of the building we had to be very careful when installing different parts of the system.  The operation of the parliament for recording every session was another challenge.”  

The  Egyptian  government wanted  to  record  audio  and video  for  every  session  of parliament, and it wanted to be able to retrieve the information by the subject being discussed or by the name of delegate.  Another challenge, once the ability to metatag every piece of audio/video footage was worked out, was to get the recording  system  to  work  with  the  voting  and conference system.  

When  deciding  on  AV  equipment  for  this project, Quality often sided with tried and tested products  from  previous  installations  said  Attia, such as Extron for the signal routing, or NEC for videowalls  and  touchscreens. 

“The  main  choice was  the  supplier  of  the  conference  and  voting system, because  this  is  the  heart  of  the  job. We went with Brahler. This is the heart of the system, so all the other technology has to work with  this.”

Alongside  the  NEC  displays,  7  Sony PTZ cameras are dotted around the main hall to provide live video. Audio  in  the  Main  Hall  is  provided  by  just two Bosch loudspeakers, but again this was an architectural obligation.  Two digitally steerable column  line  arrays  were  installed  behind  the main  stage.

“We  wanted  to  put  speakers  all around room but the architect rejected that plan. It was more expensive to use such products, but the sound is clear and doesn’t interfere with the voting system.”

Did the client budget influence the technology chosen  in  any  way?  Absolutely  not  says  Attia, pointing to the use of the high-end Bosch line array  loudspeakers.  “The  budget  was  not  an issue,  because  we  try  and  choose  the  best  of everything, we wanted to chose the most reliable equipment we could.”

The  final  piece  of  the  jigsaw  was product training says  Attia.  Quality  spent  two  weeks training the technicians during the handover of the project, then another two weeks training the MPs how to use the system. Even though each MP has a unit in front of them with just three buttons in order for them to vote, product training was crucial to  the success of  the  system  says  Attia.  

And what has the MP reaction to the technology been? “They were very happy.  The only issue was whether the displays would relay information in English or Arabic, so it now does both.”

Working  on  one  of  the  biggest  projects  in Egypt,  Attia  is rightfully proud of  his  team  of AV engineers and project managers. “This install was a real challenge because we had to use 12 different suppliers and integrate them all, into a reliable system that was easy to use in a historical room with lots of restrictions.”   

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