National Dialogue: Two weeks in

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 6 Jun 2023

Al-Ahram Weekly reports on how the National Dialogue is working to create common ground among participants.

National Dialogue: Two weeks in
The National Dialogue aims to open channels of communication


After two weeks of sessions, political analysts say the National Dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is building bridges between the state and the opposition.

“This is a mainly a political dialogue which aims to open channels of communication between the regime and opposition forces,” said Alieddin Hilal, chairman of the dialogue’s Political Committee.

“Communication between the state and opposition forces had long been closed. The National Dialogue offers these forces a forum to voice their views and demands.”

The dialogue, added Hilal, is part of a wider process to turn Egypt into a democratic state.

The dialogue’s Political Committee began sessions two weeks ago. Opposition figures were given the floor for the first time to voice their opinions about vital political issues, including legislation that regulates political parties and elections.

The Political Committee plans to hold four sessions on Sunday to discuss the NGO law, a freedom of information law, and legislation regulating parliamentary and local council elections.

“In the first session, participants will examine NGO Law 149/2019 and discuss which, if any, articles need to be amended,” said Hilal. The second session will see discussions over a possible freedom of information law.

“People should be able to access to all kinds of information, particularly that which informs the decision-making process, so they can formulate any opinions on a sound basis,” said Hilal.

Egypt has no freedom of information law despite the 2014 constitution stipulating that one should be in place.

The third and fourth sessions will feature panel discussions on the composition of the House of Representatives and the Senate, elections to which are scheduled in 2025.

Hilal noted that divisions have emerged between political parties in the last two weeks.

“As a result of differences over the system that should be used to elect the House of Representatives and the Senate, workshops including experts and representatives from different political forces were formed to reach common ground and see which electoral systems are in line with the constitution,” he said.

Hilal believes that, regardless of disagreements, the important thing is that opposition forces are being given the chance to express their opinions freely.

“This is a progressive step and comes after a long period during which liberal and leftist opposition forces have been completely marginalised. In the coming weeks we hope to build confidence between all political forces, creating a more democratic atmosphere that leads to competitive presidential and parliamentary elections.”

After two weeks of sessions, Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed, assistant rapporteur of the National Dialogue’s Political Committee, sees the dialogue “as a wider societal debate given participants come not only from political parties but from different sectors of society, including professional syndicates, trade unions, government experts and officials, cooperatives and public figures”.

Like Hilal, Al-Sayed believes that after two weeks of sessions the National Dialogue has given opposition forces — particularly the Democratic Civilian Movement led by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi — a chance to voice their opinions about political issues.

“Ahead of the dialogue, the Civilian Movement — an alliance between 12 leftist and liberal political parties — was completely marginalised. Its leaders and main officials are still prevented from appearing on TV or holding public rallies.”

El-Sayed says the gains of the first two weeks of the dialogue are “very limited”.

“We still don’t have the press and media freedoms that would allow full reporting of what the opposition says during dialogue sessions, and issues such as amending the constitution or discussing national security and foreign policy firmly off the agenda.

As a consequence, I do not expect major reforms to result from the dialogue.”

Al-Sayed characterises the National Dialogue as opening the door for opposition forces “to publicly voice their opinions on limited issues like the electoral system”.

The third session of the National Dialogue’s Political Committee was originally planned for Sunday 4 June, but due to bad weather conditions was delayed to Sunday 11 June.

Meanwhile, in an emergency session the National Dialogue’s Education and Scientific Research Committee approved a draft law establishing a Supreme National Council for Education and Training.

Some participants in the emergency session objected that the council’s board should include 12 cabinet ministers.

“Such a large number of ministers threatens to undermine the council’s independence,” said Mohamed Ghoneim, a professor at Mansoura University.

According to the eight-article draft legislation, the proposed council will be affiliated with the president’s office and headed by the prime minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 8 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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