Building blocks of national dialogue

Salwa Thabet Mekky
Sunday 12 Jun 2022

Launching a national dialogue in Egypt has been envisaged as a cornerstone towards generating broad public consent over the future of the country and the road to the new republic, which requires the creation of a cohesive and solid common ground to carry out the dialogue on.

 

Commitment to the national interest has been identified as the only requirement for participating in the exceptional national dialogue initiative.

Scholars have defined the concept of national dialogue as a nationally owned political process aiming to build consensus among a wide range of national stakeholders and representatives from all segments of society to address issues of national concern, create a more inclusive society and to sustain peace; especially in times of crisis or transition.

The scope of desired outcomes could vary between dramatic broad-based changes, such as issuing a new social contract that determines the future trajectory of Egypt and addresses the aspirations of future generations following in the wake of the 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013 Revolutions on one hand, and narrow-based changes, such as development policies of a specific sector or issue, on the other.

Undoubtedly, this initiative is the product of a sincere political will that forms the backbone of the national dialogue. It offers a great opportunity for promoting an unprecedented participatory approach in policymaking in Egypt. However, if not efficiently managed, risks like the persistence of longstanding issues, polarisation and lack of public support could emerge.

Hence, it is necessary to make such a highly inclusive model a success, especially since there has been public buy-in and great enthusiasm. The dialogue is now perceived as an inclusive and deliberative exercise toward reshaping democracy that is placing people at the center of the decision-making process, which has traditionally been captured by intellectual elite.

The challenges to such an outcome are undoubtedly immense, not only in terms of the public issues stakeholders will bring to the table for negotiations, but also because the lack of a culture of dialogue could cause the initiative to stumble and fall.

Although there is an agreed upon definition of the national dialogue concept, no one has ever succeeded in developing a blueprint or evidenced-based methodology for it that reflects best practices.

Instead, we need to consider key success factors (KSF) based on lessons learned and past experiences both nationally and internationally, including the following five golden tips:

  1. Institutionalisation: Setting an organisational structure is a key determinant for ensuring both livelihood and utility of the process. Institutional set-up could encompass different types of committees, such as schematic committees, coordinating committees, and citizens’ consultation committees for co-producing policy recommendations. The dialogue institutionalisation process also requires identifying and assigning responsibilities to include design, set up, coordination, analysis, co-production of recommendations, follow-up and evaluation.
  2. Autonomy: National ownership, with respect to technical and financial support, ensures impartiality and credibility where both are considered pivotal criteria for strengthening and sustaining public support.
  3. Perpetuity: Stability and peace are interrelated with permanent participatory national dialogue and citizens’ inclusion in policymaking, hence ensuring national dialogue perpetuity is highly decisive for long-term impact and sustainability.
  4. Specificity: An overloaded agenda of many issues, especially those reflecting deep conflicts might drive the national dialogue to collapse. There is always an unsolved tension between two conflicting goals, degrees of inclusiveness and efficiency, putting those responsible for designing and setting up its structure, scope and priorities in a dilemma to determine the right balance. 
  5. Reliability: Trust-building measures attenuate political tensions, especially among political parties or between government and opposition. It also influences both image and impact. Such measures could include setting objective selection criteria as well as calling for credible and broadly accepted public figures or/and officials, which further render the process higher level of credibility and seriousness. In addition, an effective neutral role of media is inevitable in communicating accurate information and promoting transparency.

Drawing up a roadmap for the new republic based on principles of inclusion, tolerance, coexistence and respect for diversity, calls for joining all national forces on a common ground based on consensus. Such an inclusive model is a key driver for integrating all actors with their different ideologies, affiliations, background, expertise, beliefs, gender, age or religion to promote cohesion and homogeneity of the Egyptian society. No doubt, integration and cohesion create more resilient societies and sustain peace.

The writer is professor of public administration at Future University in Egypt

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