Egypt's political parties participated in two sessions on Tuesday night held as part of a national dialogue on Egyptian laws governing political parties and elections.
The dialogue, organised by the Future of a Homeland party, attracted representatives from most high-profile political parties, including opposition ones such as Anwar El-Sadat's liberal Reform and Development Party and Farid Zahran's leftist Egyptian Democratic Socialist Party.
According to Abdel-Hadi El-Qasabi, deputy head of the Future of a Homeland Party, the dialogue also seeks to discuss how to reinforce the role of political parties in the coming stage and ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of next year.
"This could come through amending the political parties law (passed in 1977) in order to make them more liberal," said El-Qasabi, who also heads parliament's majority coalition Support Egypt.
El-Qasabi said the dialogue is primarily devoted to discussing a number of laws expected to be passed by parliament in 2020.
"These include the laws regulating the election and performance of the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Redrawing of Electoral Districts, the Exercise of Political Rights, and Local Councils," said El-Qasabi, arguing that "the dialogue on these laws is very important in order to reach national consensus on them and before elections are held at the end of 2020."
El-Qasabi said he views the national dialogue as a first step towards political reform in Egypt.
"We want to reactivate political life in Egypt and so we see this dialogue as a beginning for political reform and we hope it would result in reaching common ground and consensus on a number of political laws and issues that are currently controversial among political parties, particularly the electoral system," said El-Qasabi, adding that "differences are expected, especially since controversial political issues related to electoral systems and laws can never gain 100 percent approval from all forces."
El-Qasabi also said that it is very important that all political parties are fairly represented in Egypt's coming parliaments – the House of Representatives and the Senate.
"Not only will this activate political life, but it will also reinforce Egypt's internal stability and economic performance in the long run," said El-Qasabi, adding that "this will send a strong message to the outside world that Egypt is seriously moving towards a fully democratic life."
Most of the representatives of political parties said that although it comes late, the step taken by Future of a Homeland should be wholeheartedly welcomed by all political forces.
Mohamed El-Amin, deputy head of the Conservatives Party, said that "Egypt should hurry up in implementing all constitutional obligations such as holding the local council elections and passing other laws stipulated by the constitution."
El-Amin said his party recommends that the proportional list system be adopted in the coming parliamentary elections.
"This, rather than the closed list system, helps all political parties gain seats and have representation in parliament," said El-Amin, hoping that "the coming parliament will have a strong majority and a forceful minority."
Mohamed Anwar El-Sadat, a former MP and head of the Reform and Development Party, said his party welcomed the national dialogue "to identify how much there are serious and goodwill intentions to achieve political reform in Egypt."
"We have a serious interest in political reform and we do not want to be just a 'decorative addition'," said Sadat, arguing that "we as opposition parties have questions on how political and election laws should be amended, how much the media will be free in covering these elections and will deal with all political forces on equal footing, and how much of a hand the security apparatus will have in the election process."
"We need serious answers to these questions if we really want to achieve political reform," said Sadat, adding that "regardless of any remarks, I am happy to attend this dialogue and I will be keen to respond to any invitations to any national dialogue on reforms in Egypt."
Farid Zahran, head of the leftist Egyptian Democratic Socialist Party, said the party was keen to attend the national dialogue – which is being held at the headquarters of the Future of a Homeland Party in eastern Cairo's Third Tagammu district.
"But I hope that this dialogue will not be window dressing or just for polishing the image of the current political situation in Egypt," said Zahran, adding that "members of the party tried to persuade me not to attend the dialogue, but I said we should have hope that Egypt will have democratic openness and that there is a serious wish to reach something good in the coming stage."
Asharaf Rashad, head of the Future of a Homeland Party, said that the party has a serious interest in crystallising a national consensus on political life in Egypt.
"The first session of this dialogue was a kind of brainstorming, while the second one focused on three basic issues: political laws, constitutional obligations in the coming stage, and the role of political parties on the street," said Rashad.
Rashad said political forces in Egypt are required to reach a consensus on the coming parliamentary elections and how they will be organised.
"We want to know how these forces see the electoral systems, including the proportional and closed list ones as well as the individual candidacy one or a mixture of both," said Rashad, adding that "as for the role of political parties on the street, we see that all forces should have complete freedom in this respect, but at least we all should agree on a national objective, that all our activities should be directed to supporting the state."
Rashad revealed that more national dialogue sessions will be held to discuss all of the abovementioned issues in detail, listen to all the viewpoints of political parties, and then try to reach a kind of consensus ahead of the coming elections.
"Please believe me we want to widen the scope of political participation in the coming stage and all forces are required to explain their vision for the coming stage of our country's political history," said Rashad.
The Future of a Homeland Party got 57 seats in Egypt's 2015 parliamentary elections, second only to the Free Egyptians Party, which won 65 seats. The Future of a Homeland Party, however, was able in 2017 to swell its ranks in parliament to more than 150 seats (26 percent), and now it leads the Support Egypt coalition, which comprises close to 350 MPs.
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal has repeatedly emphasised that laws on elections and the exercise of political rights and political parties will be amended only after they are discussed in a national dialogue.