The 19-member Board of Trustees preparing for the national dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in April will hold a final meeting on Saturday.
The board’s General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan said once the national dialogue proper begins, meetings may be broadcast live, though a final decision has yet to be taken.
Rashwan also said experts, including economists and statisticians, will be invited to attend the meetings.
Conceding preparations for the national dialogue have been “moving slowly” of late, giving rise to speculations that it would not take place, Rashwan said such rumours were “completely unfounded”.
Representatives from 84 political parties and prominent public figures will participate in the dialogue. The political agenda due to be discussed has already been formulated by subcommittees, and by Saturday the social and economic agendas should also be finalised.
On Monday, the national dialogue’s secretary-general, Mahmoud Fawzi, proclaimed that “countries with limited resources often resort to national dialogue to match resources with people’s demands” and added that, while there will be no voting on recommendations, what is important is that representatives of political forces reach a consensus over Egypt’s political, social, and economic priorities.
“It took two months for the dialogue’s board to hold its first meeting and another two months to prepare the political, social, and economic agendas, which is not a long time given the work involved,” said Fawzi.
Whenever a subcommittee finishes discussing a particular track and makes recommendations it will present them to the dialogue’s board to be sent to the president for a final say, said Rashwan.
Following a meeting on Monday, the board named six rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs for the main political, social and economic committees. The board also selected two rapporteurs for each of the three political subcommittees. They cover the exercise of political rights, parliamentary representation and political parties; local councils; and human rights and public liberties.
Alieddin Hilal, veteran professor of political science at Cairo University, was appointed rapporteur to the Dialogue’s main political committee. His assistant will be Al-Ahram political researcher Ahmed Kamel Al-Beheiri.
Hilal explained that his job as rapporteur of the dialogue’s main political committee is to coordinate between the affiliated three subcommittees.
“Those who argued preparations were moving very slowly did so because they are pinning high hopes on the dialogue and want to see quick and concrete results,” said Hilal, and did not take account of the fact that success will depend on painstaking preparation.
Hilal argued that there is widespread hope the dialogue will lead to political reforms and more openness but cautioned “we cannot open the door to allow outlawed forces to benefit from reform”. Instead he said laws regulating the performance of political parties, and the exercise of political rights and elections should be amended to pave the way for greater openness, adding that as the rapporteur of the national dialogue’s main political committee he would do his best to ensure it comes up with recommendations “that change the political landscape in Egypt for the better”.
“We will change political laws to engineer a more vibrant political life, a stronger parliament and more vigorous political parties,” said Hilal.
He pointed out that many of Egypt’s 84 licensed political parties are unable to contest elections and win seats in the House of Representatives or the Senate and hinted that the discrepancy could be tackled by adopting a system that is more proportional than the current party list system under which the winning party takes all the seats in any given district. He added the coda, however, “that political parties which fail to gain seats over three consecutive elections could be frozen”.
He also noted that countries like Germany give money to political parties in proportion to the seats they win in parliament, a device Egypt could explore to activate political life.
Hilal believes any political reforms recommended by the Dialogue should lead to greater parliamentary supervision of the government’s performance.
“I believe the prime minister should hold press conferences on a regular basis to clarify controversial issues to the public, particularly when it comes to economic policy. The simple fact is that imposing blanket media blackouts allows rumours to grow, harming stability.”
Hilal concluded by saying “serious participation from opposition and loyalist forces is key to making the dialogue a success.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.