Egypt national dialogue gets new head, is indefinitely postponed

Dina Samak , Sunday 3 Apr 2011

Egypt's prime minister appoints 88 year old Abdel Aziz Hegazy, a former prime minister under Sadat, to head the national dialogue initiative after the first session drew much criticism

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf
Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf (Reuters)

The national dialogue that was supposed to resume today has been delayed for an indefinite period after Prime Minister Essam Sharaf appointed the former prime minister Abdel Aziz Hegazy to head the initiative, in place of his deputy, Yehia El-Gamal.

The first session of the dialogue, held on Wednesday, was subject to criticism, even from those in attendance. "The dialogue came too late and yet was not organized or properly planned," said the well known leftist writer and politician Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, who attended the first session. "Some conditions have to be followed for such a dialogue to succeed and if these conditions are not met, the participants in the dialogue will only act as a facelift for the interim government." Shokr has expressed his wish that the new national committee that will be in charge of the dialogue will be able to establish a concrete plan to ensure it bears fruit.

Among the conditions of which Shokr speaks are the involvement of representatives from trade unions, political groups and civil society, and guarantees that the opinions of these groups are taken into consideration before any laws are issued during this the transitional period. Many of those who participated in the first session agreed with Shokr.

The participation of the former secretary-general of the National Democratic Party, Hosam Badrawy, in the first session was also criticized. "How can a national dialogue with the government be credible when it comes after a constitutional announcement that we did not discuss? And does it make any sense that figures from the former ruling party participate in the dialogue?" said Mohamed ElBaradei via Twitter. The potential presidential candidate did not attend the first session even though the government claim he was invited.

"I hope that the so-called conciliation that Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal tackled in the first meeting will not be put on the agenda of the new committee, at least until all the demands of the revolution are met," said leading member of the Kifaya movement, George Ishaq, who attended the first session. "Many people are already angry that the NDP has not been dismantled yet; how can we explain to them that we are talking about reconciliation while meeting with members of that party?"

The prime minister's decision to appoint Hegazy to head the national dialogue comes after tens of thousands of Egyptians protested in Tahrir Square last Friday against what they described as the slow pace of the government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in fulfiling the demands of the revolution. The protesters also chanted against a draft law proposed by Sharaf’s cabinet to ban strikes and sit-ins, and against the new law regulating the formation of political parties. Both laws were not subject to discussion in the dialogue.

Sharaf explained that the aim of his decision is to distance the government from the dialogue to prevent any unwanted influence on it. He added that the role of the government will be to provide logistic help to the new committee, which he said should include young people who are the main driving force of the revolution.

Figures from the Youth Revolution Coalition refused to attend the first session of the dialogue because they were invited as individuals and not representatives of a certain group.  

Hegazy is 88 years old and was minister of finance in Gamal Abdel Naser's time before being appointed prime minister by Anwar Sadat, a position he held from 1973 to 1975.

Short link: