After seven months in office, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has decided to meet with leaders of the country's political parties including the opposition, a few months before Egypt's first parliamentary elections since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The chairmen of several political parties told Ahram Online Sunday that El-Sisi's presidential office contacted them by phone, asking them to attend a meeting with the president Monday at the presidential palace in east Cairo's district of Heliopolis.
Chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, told Ahram Online that he had received a phone call from the presidential office, inviting him to a dialogue with El-Sisi on the country's political and democratic future.
Constitution Party spokesman Khaled Dawood confirmed that party head Hala Shukrallah also received the same invitation.
"She will not be able to attend because she will be on a pre-scheduled visit to Geneva, but she asked the president's office that one of her deputies attend on her behalf," he said.
During his visit to Kuwait last week, El-Sisi told editors of a number of local newspapers he would meet with leaders of Egypt's political parties this month to discuss the country's upcoming parliamentary elections and the period beyond them.
"I know they were not 100 per cent satisfied with the new election laws, but they must realise that if they insisted that things should always be perfect there would be no need to move a step beyond them," El-Sisi said, also expressing hopes that the political parties "will be able to forge strong electoral alliances capable of creating a powerful and vibrant parliament at the end."
Officials from political parties said that although their anticipated meeting with El-Sisi "came late", it will be a good chance to exchange views on the country's political and democratic future.
"We were surprised and even disappointed that El-Sisi was keen to meet with all sectors of society, including media representatives, whom he met more than once, but he always declined to meet with the country's political leaders," said Sadat.
Political parties, however, differed over the objective of the meeting.
Sadat said: "As far as I understand from the invitation, the president has worked out an agenda he wants to discuss with political leaders, but I hope that this agenda will be open so as not to be confined to the upcoming parliamentary polls or the battle against terrorism."
He added: "It should rather extend to include other local sensitive issues such as the reshuffle of provincial governors, and the protest and NGOs laws. I also hope that such meetings will be held on a regular basis and then evolve into a kind of national dialogue."
“We have a lot to demands. However, I don’t think that a meeting with this number of attendants and political backgrounds and interests would actually reach a concrete conclusion,” said Dawood.
Sources said the invitation was extended to most political parties, including the ones which have been vocal in criticising El-Sisi since he came to office in June 2014 .
These include a mix of revolutionary liberal and leftist parties, such as the Constitution Party, founded by high-profile ex-UN diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei.
The Strong Egypt Party, headed by former Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, was also invited.
The Constitution Party has sternly criticised Egypt's new election laws, insisting that they will lead to the resurrection of Mubarak's defunct ruling party and help them dominate political life again. They asked El-Sisi several times for a dialogue on the election laws.
The Constitution Party has not yet announced its final position over whether to participate in the elections.
Younis Makhyoun, chairman of the ultraconservative Salafist Al-Nour Party, said he is keen to join the meeting with El-Sisi after the president's office extended him an invitation Sunday.
The Salafist party, which is not on good terms with most liberal and leftist parties even though it is the only Islamist party that supported the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood leader and former president Morsi, earlier announced that it will run for election in all seats.
Hossam Al-Khouli, spokesman for the Wafd Party, said the party's chairman Al-Sayed Al-Badawi was “on top of the list of invitees.”
"Members of the Egyptian Al-Wafd electoral alliance were invited and they will attend the meeting with El-Sisi," said Al-Khouli.
The Wafd alliance includes the Wafd Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party led by Mohamed Abul-Ghar, the Reform and Development Party led by Al-Sadat, the Conservative Party led by Akmal Qortam, and the Awareness Party led by chairman of Ahly Sporting Club Mahmoud Taher.
Yehia Qadri, deputy chairman of the National Movement Party, said leaders of the Egyptian Front electoral alliance, of which his party is a member, would attend the meeting with El-Sisi after they received invitations Sunday.
"As far as I understand, President El-Sisi wants to discuss a certain agenda with political leaders and I hope the meeting will be fruitful," said Qadri.
Nabil Zaki, spokesman for the leftist Tagammu Party, said El-Sisi's invitation was a progressive step. "El-Sisi should realise that political stability in Egypt will never be complete without serious dialogue with all political factions, relinquishing Mubarak-style rule that was based on monopolising power and marginalising secular political forces."
"I hope that he meeting was not designed in advance to include a fixed agenda. I also share those who want the meeting to be open, aiming to put all political issues on the table, especially as it comes before the parliamentary polls."
Zaki said El-Sisi's insistence that he will not set up his own political party is a good sign. "He must know that the people revolted in 2011 not only to remove Mubarak from office and prevent hereditary rule by his son Gamal, but also to get rid of what used to be called 'the president's own party,' the former National Democratic Party," he said.
Mohamed Abu-Ghar, chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, said as far as he knows, “there is no fixed agenda for the (El-Sisi) meeting."
"The Egyptian Wafd coalition will hold a meeting Sunday to prepare an agenda for discussion with El-Sisi. The president should give guarantees that the upcoming parliamentary polls will be held in an atmosphere of integrity and transparency."
El-Sisi's anticipated meeting with political leaders Monday comes a few days after Egypt's Higher Electoral Commission (HEC) announced that the country's long-delayed parliamentary polls will be held in March.
The commission announced 8 January that the two-stage polls will finally kick off on 21 March and end on 7 May.