In its fourth meeting on 27 July, the 19-member Board of Trustees overseeing the national dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi focused on economic issues.
The board has held four meetings so far. The first two were devoted to discussing the dialogue’s political agenda, while the third focused on the social issues. “On Wednesday, it was the turn of the economic agenda to be discussed,” Amr Hashem Rabie, Al-Ahram political analyst and a member of the board, told reporters.
Diaa Rashwan, general coordinator of the dialogue and head of the Press Syndicate, said “national dialogue sessions, with all 400 invitees attending, will begin only after the board finalises the composition of all subcommittees”.
Three subcommittees will oversee discussions on the exercise of political rights, parliamentary representation, political parties, local councils, and human rights and freedom, while five will supervise discussions on education, health, population, family and social cohesion, and culture and national identity.
“Unlike the board’s closed-room meetings, dialogue debates will be public,” said Rashwan.
He described the board’s four meetings so far as successful.
“There are no great differences among members, though some are opposition and others loyalists. Members are keen to ensure the preparations lead to a successful national dialogue.”
Rashwan called on all factions to ignore “those who raise doubts about the dialogue’s preparations”.
Rabie argues that for the national dialogue to really get off the ground more political prisoners must be released in order to “create an atmosphere of trust between the regime and activists”.
The four meetings witnessed serious debate on the challenges ahead, said Gouda Abdel-Khalek, economist and board member. He added that the dialogue’s secretariat-general has been very professional in organising discussions and collecting relevant data, and insisted “it is in the public interest that we make use of the dialogue to listen to each other and propose ideas and solutions for our country’s problems.”
Negad Al-Boraai, a human rights activist and member of the board, warned that many, both inside and outside Egypt, would like to see the national dialogue fail, and that “false information is being spread, including claims that some public figures, such as head of the liberal Reform and Development Party Mohamed Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat, have been excluded from the dialogue.”
Al-Boraai also revealed that the board has yet to settle the composition of the political, social, and economic committees.
Mahmoud Fawzi, the dialogue’s secretary-general, indicated that the division into political, social, and economic committees was determined based on proposals submitted to the dialogue’s secretariat-general. “We received around 100,000 proposals, of which 37.2 per cent said the dialogue’s agenda should focus on political issues, 33.1 per cent favoured social issues, and 29.7 per cent thought economic issues should take priority,” he said.
According to Fawzi, members of the economic subcommittee will include representatives from the General Federation of Egyptian Industries, chambers of commerce, business associations and the economic and budget committees affiliated with the House of Representatives and the Senate.
In line with the proposals received, the economic subcommittees, he continued, will focus on reducing foreign debt and the budget deficit, containing the negative impacts of the war in Ukraine, reinforcing food and agricultural production, particularly wheat, and promoting local industries and foreign investment.
Fawzi also expects that in discussing the dialogue’s economic agenda legislative changes will be proposed, requiring the secretariat-general to invite government officials to attend the discussions.
Ahmed Al-Sharkawi, another member of the board, hopes the dialogue will help contain fears among citizens about Egypt’s economic future.
“I think that if the dialogue is able to limit foreign borrowing, introduce new social justice measures and promote local industry it will send a message of confidence to all Egyptians,” he said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.