President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call for political dialogue to help crystallise a new social contract has been welcomed by political forces, civil society organisations, research centres, and business associations.
The National Training Academy, which organises the National Youth Conference, said in a statement on Tuesday that it will organise the political dialogue with all forces “without exception nor discrimination”.
The academy’s role will be limited to coordination with all participants without imposing on the agenda of discussion to open the door for this dialogue to be serious, effective and inclusive of all forces. The statement added that the political dialogue is an important step in setting the nation’s priorities in the coming period and paving the way for the launch of the new republic.
The statement clarified that the dialogue will be held in most parts of Egypt to ensure diversity. The academy also revealed that a joint committee comprising representatives from research centres and think tanks will be formed to collect the recommendations made during the political dialogue and combine them in a unified official document that will be finally presented to the president.
Khaled Okasha, head of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies, said it was notable that Al-Sisi had issued the call twice. He made it first during a visit to the Toskha agricultural project on 21 April, only to repeat it during an official Iftar on 26 April.
According to Okasha, President Al-Sisi had initially intended to call for political dialogue during a meeting of the National Youth Forum in 2019, only to delay the announcement as the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold.
It is the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Okasha argues, that has pushed political dialogue back to the top of the agenda.
“The crisis is hitting Egypt’s economy and building inflationary pressures which ordinary citizens are feeling in the form of higher food prices, a development for which the government is being criticised. The dialogue is intended to contain internal tensions and allow for a consensus on political and economic priorities to emerge,” says Okasha.
The Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies will contribute to the dialogue by preparing an agenda of priorities and by “submitting papers which reflect different visions on the required reforms”.
“We will submit papers on political and economic reform, security challenges, human rights and citizenship in order to make the dialogue a success and an important step on the road to political and economic progress,” said Okasha.
As the war in Ukraine exerts huge pressure on Egypt in terms of higher inflation, disruption in international food supply chains, and fluctuations in financial markets, “President Al-Sisi wants to use the dialogue to stress that all political forces have a role to play, that we are all in one boat and need to participate to keep the nation safe from sudden storms,” says political analyst Gamal Abdel-Gawwad.
He believes the dialogue should also address the problems facing political parties in Egypt and “highlight the importance of political pluralism in turning Egypt into a fully-fledged democracy and stable state”.
Political analyst Abdel-Moneim Said thinks it would be better to entrust the Senate rather than the Youth Forum with organising and hosting the dialogue.
“Article 248 of the constitution defines the Senate’s role as to study and propose everything necessary to support democracy and social peace, and reinforce freedoms and rights,” he says.
“The dialogue should focus on how to turn Egypt into a modern democratic state by 2030.”
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chairperson of the Reform and Development party, agrees the Senate should be tasked with hosting the political dialogue sessions. He points out that the call for dialogue is the logical extension of a number of earlier steps which began with the cancelling of the state of emergency, and includes the launch of a national strategy for human rights, and the decision of the Presidential Pardon Committee to release a number of political activists.
Members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate joined the chorus welcoming the prospect of a wide-ranging political dialogue, though MPs stressed the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood must be excluded from the process.
“Those who have blood on their hands or are implicated in terror-related crimes cannot participate in a national political dialogue,” says MP Mahmoud Badr. “The Muslim Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organisation in 2013, and nobody should expect its members to be invited.
“It should be noted that the recent pardons apply to civilian activists, not to members of terrorist organisations.”
On 24 April, the prosecutor-general announced the release of 41 pretrial detainees, including lawyers, human rights activists, and journalists.
Tarek Radwan, chairman of the House of Representatives Human Rights Committee, said in a statement that the release of activists and journalists would help pave the way to a successful political dialogue.
In a statement issued last week, the Tagammu Party indicated its support for Al-Sisi’s call for political dialogue with the proviso “the dialogue be confined to civilian forces, including recognised political parties and civil society organizations, with the objective of drawing up a new political roadmap.”
Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party MP Faridi Al-Biaddi also said in a statement last week that the call for political dialogue is restricted to civilian political and social forces.
“We do not expect members of terrorist-designated organisations implicated in terror-related crimes to be released,” said Al-Biaddi. “Yes, we want a nation for all — Muslims and Christians, majority and opposition — but it cannot include terrorist forces.”
Former MP Kamal Ahmed, a founder of the Arab Nasserist Party who warned against inviting the Muslim Brotherhood to the proposed political dialogue, argued the call for dialogue should not be restricted to gathering support from political forces for a new loan deal with the IMF or to satisfy Washington which is openly pressing Egypt to side with the West and Ukraine “in their war against Russia”.
MP Mustafa Bakri tweeted on Wednesday that he hopes “the call for a wide-ranging dialogue will put an end to the state of political sclerosis in Egypt.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.