On 13 May, the National Training Academy (NTA) began registration for participants in Egypt’s proposed national dialogue which President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi called for during an official banquet on 26 April.
In a statement on Friday it said that anyone who wants to participate in the dialogue on Egypt’s economic and political priorities can register through its website http://egyouth.com/ar.register. Those wishing to participate will have to fill a registration form including their full name, national ID number, contact information, the governorate in which they reside and, where applicable, the political party to which they belong.
“Hopeful participants should also explain why they want to join the national dialogue,” said the statement.
It added that a committee comprising representatives from research centres and think tanks will be formed to collect recommendations made during the political dialogue and combine them in a single document that will be presented to the president. The statement did not, however, give a starting date for the dialogue.
Political forces loyal to the government and President Al-Sisi have welcomed the dialogue, claiming it reflects a sincere wish to help the country weather economic crises. They point to a number of reconciliatory steps ahead of the call for a national dialogue, arguing that the recent release of a number of activists and journalists in custody pending trial, and the fact opposition figures were invited to the official Iftar at which the president called for the dialogue, show that the regime is determined the event be as inclusive as possible.
Others, though, are more cautious, and fears have been expressed that the event is a tactic to gain support for further economic reforms being pushed for by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Egypt is currently negotiating with the IMF for a new loan agreement.
In a TV interview on 10 May, President Al-Sisi described the global economic downturn caused by the war in Ukraine as “severe and unprecedented”.
In an article in Al-Ahram on 11 May, political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said expressed concerns that the NTA’s professed goal of ensuring the largest possible number of representatives take part in the dialogue threatens to turn it into an unwieldy talking shop.
Said argued that the number of participants be limited to 100 public figures, drawn “from the political, parliamentary, and intellectual elite” and that the “dialogue be given as much media coverage as possible in order to reinvigorate political life and save it from the current sclerosis and stagnation.”
Said also argued participants should approach the dialogue “with a critical rather than herd mentality”.
“Participants cannot come simply to declare positions. They need to exchange views and come up with a consensual agenda,” he said.
Osama Al-Ghazali Harb, an Al-Ahram political analyst, recalled that while presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar Al-Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak all called for national dialogues in the wake of crises, they proved to be attempts to weather the immediate storm and then return to the pre-crisis status quo. This time, said Harb, he hoped the dialogue would be free, serious, and fertile.
Amina Al-Naqash, a member of the Senate and editor-in-chief of Al-Ahali, the mouthpiece of the Tagammu Party, is also worried that the dialogue could turn into little more than a talking shop, becoming an attempt “to gather the largest number of people in one place to talk and chat and then rubber-stamp a pre-prepared agenda.
“While the dialogue could be a golden opportunity to move Egypt forward on the road to building a democratic civil state, the danger is it will create more disappointment than hope,” she concluded.
For Emad Gad, deputy chairman of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, the main concern is that representatives of loyalist political parties comprise the majority of participants.
“If this happens, the dialogue will fail to build a new partnership between the regime and civilian forces advocating a fully-fledged democratic state,” he said.
The Alliance of Political Parties, a grouping of 40 pro-government political parties, held a meeting on 12 May at which it urged all national forces and political factions to put national interests above partisan considerations, insisting the dialogue should mobilise support for government policies designed to weather the economic crisis.
The Wafd, which refused to attend the alliance’s meeting, said the dialogue should focus on one issue, reforming political life. “This includes drafting a new constitution and a new political parties law,” the party said in a statement on 13 May.
The Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party declared that if the dialogue aims simply to secure support for economic reforms required by the IMF, it will be a backward step on the road to democracy.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.