Egypt’s Future of Homeland Party last week took the initiative of calling political forces to a national dialogue. Two sessions were held on 3 and 4 December and more are scheduled for next week.
The dialogue attracted representatives from high-profile political parties, including the opposition, notably Anwar Al-Sadat’s liberal Reform and Development Party, Farid Zahran’s leftist Egyptian Democratic Socialist Party, and Sayed Abdel-Aal’s Tagammu Party.
According to Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, deputy head of the Future of Homeland Party, the dialogue seeks in general 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,” Al-Qasabi, who also heads parliament’s majority coalition Support Egypt, said.
Al-Qasabi said the dialogue is also devoted to discussing a number of political laws expected to be passed before parliamentary elections are held at the end of 2020.
“These include 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,” Al-Qasabi said, 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.
Al-Qasabi said he views national dialogue as the 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,” Al-Qasabi said, adding that “differences are expected, especially since controversial political issues related to electoral systems and laws can never gain 100 per cent approval from all forces.”
Al-Qasabi argued that it was very important that all political parties be fairly represented in Egypt’s coming parliaments — the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“Not only will this activate political life, but will also reinforce Egypt’s internal stability and economic performance in the long run,” Al-Qasabi said, adding that “this will send a strong message to the 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 the Future of Homeland should be wholeheartedly welcomed by all political forces.
Mohamed Al-Amin, deputy head of the Conservatives Party, said that “Egypt should hurry in implementing all constitutional obligations such as holding the local council elections and passing other laws stipulated by the constitution.”
Al-Amin said his party recommends that the proportional list system be adopted in the parliamentary elections.
“This, rather than the closed list system, helps all political parties gain seats and have representation in parliament,”
Al-Amin said, hoping that the next parliament will have a strong majority and also a forceful minority. “If the major political forces fail to gain a fair number of seats in the coming polls, the new parliament will be pallid, meaningless and a liability rather than a gain,” Al-Amin said.
Al-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’,” Al-Sadat said, 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 how they will deal with all political forces on an equal footing, and how much of a say the security apparatus will have in the election process.
“We need serious answers to these questions if we really want to achieve political reform,” Al-Sadat said.
“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 of the leftist Egyptian Democratic Socialist Party.
Likewise, Ashraf Rashad, head of the Future of Homeland Party, said that the party has a serious interest in crystallising a national consensus on political reform in Egypt.
“The first session of this dialogue was brainstorming, while the second focused on three basic issues: political laws, constitutional obligations in the coming stage, and the role of political parties on the street,” recounted Rashad.
He said political forces in Egypt are also required to reach a consensus on the next parliamentary elections and how they will be organised.
“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 benchmark of national objectives, on top of which is that activities should be directed to supporting the state and preserving national security,” Rashad said.
Rashad revealed that more national dialogue sessions will be held in the next few days to discuss all of these issues in detail, listen to all the viewpoints of political parties, and then try to reach some sort of consensus ahead of next year’s elections.
“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,” Rashad said.
The Future of Homeland Party won 57 seats in Egypt’s 2015 parliamentary elections, second only to the Free Egyptians Party which won 65 seats. Future of Homeland, however, was able in 2017 to swell its ranks in parliament to more than 150 seats (26 per cent), and now it leads the Support Egypt coalition, which comprises close to 350 MPs.
Abdel-Moneim Imam, the representative of the liberal Al-Adl (Justice) Party, said the current political climate in Egypt is by no means encouraging. “You can’t exercise politics in a climate of fear, and so it is good that we meet to discuss how to open up this climate to be more liberal and fear-free,” Imam said, adding that the opposition will never accept to be a “decoration”.
“We want a serious national dialogue, and I think the first step to build up confidence in this respect is to adopt the proportional list system in holding the coming parliamentary election,” said Imam, adding that “we also hope that in the next sessions we will discuss in detail how other laws should be amended to reactivate politics in Egypt because this is important for the long-term security and stability of the country.”
Hossam Al-Kholi, secretary-general of Future of Homeland, said “the party is serious about political reform but we will not be able to achieve all what we hope in just one year. Let us now take the first and giant step of making sure that there will be a fair representation for all political forces in the coming parliament,” Al-Kholi said.
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. Abdel-Aal said the laws will soon be referred to parliament.
Samir Ghattas, an MP and a political analyst, told Al-Ahram Weekly that there were good signs that there was interest in opening up politics in Egypt. “We see that TV talk shows are now interested in hosting opposition figures and we see that parliament is becoming more forceful in supervising the government, and we see that there is a national dialogue on political participation,” Ghattas said, hoping that “2020 will be the year of serious political reform in Egypt.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.