Al-Tagammu Party welcomed President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call for a national dialogue on Egypt’s political and economic priorities, describing it as a way forward in turning Egypt into a modern civilian democratic state.
How did you receive President Al-Sisi’s call for national dialogue?
When President Al-Sisi announced his call for dialogue during the Ramadan family iftar on 26 April, Al-Tagammu was among the first political parties to hail the step.
The party’s political bureau held a meeting to draft an agenda for the proposed dialogue. The party has long asked for both a comprehensive political dialogue and an economic conference. We want a national dialogue to discuss political reform and we want an economic conference to discuss the country’s current and future economic conditions. When the National Academy for Training (NAT), which will be responsible for organising the dialogue, sent us an official invitation, the political bureau convened and drafted a number of proposals which have now been sent back to the NAT.
What issues did the proposals address?
The proposals can be thought of as headlines rather than detailed stories. We think the details should be left to the dialogue. For example, we produced a paper on the cultural identity of Egypt in which we say Egypt should strive to become a modern civilian democratic state. This means that we reject political Islam movements and political groups which resort to violence and terrorism to achieve their objectives. In this civilian democratic state we ask for complete press freedom.
We submitted another paper on social justice because, in the coming stage, utmost priority must be given to the education and health sectors. Poor, limited and middle-income classes should have access to free high-quality education and health care services.
We also believe that middle-income classes should not be the ones to bear 90 per cent of the burdens of economic reform. We want to see an economy emerge that is based primarily on industrial and agricultural production. These should be the two main components of the Egyptian economy and they need developing so as to double foreign exchange revenues from their products.
What is needed for this dialogue to succeed?
In order for this dialogue to be a success all political forces should be invited and treated on an equal footing. By forces I mean all those that were part of the 30 June Revolution alliance. Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood, its offshoots and sympathisers can’t be allowed to join this dialogue as the Egyptian people revolted against them in June 2013 and removed them from office.
We do not want for this dialogue to be an elite gathering. Representatives of workers, farmers and professional syndicates should all participate .
Some forces have said they will participate only after specific pre-conditions are met…
Al-Tagammu was founded in 1976 and has participated in several national dialogues. We generally welcome participation in dialogues regardless of who issued the invitation and without stipulating pre-conditions. The only exception was in 2013 when Mohamed Morsi sent us a national dialogue invitation.
When forces put pre-conditions it suggests they do not trust the person calling for dialogue or its organisers. We trust President Al-Sisi and think the Egyptian people view him not just as the president of Egypt but also as the leader of a revolution. President Al-Sisi is not the leader of a certain political party or a high-ranking official who was promoted to the post. He is a revolutionary hero who is trusted by the people.
Do you think the current economic crisis led to the call for national dialogue?
No. Egypt’s ruling regime is not in a crisis. Al-Tagammu and other political forces which formed the 30 June alliance believe Al-Sisi’s call for national dialogue comes after the regime’s success in defeating the forces of terrorism and regaining national stability. After removing the Muslim Brotherhood from office civil forces dreamed of turning Egypt into a modern democratic country but this was impossible while we were fighting a battle against terrorism and suffering from things such as chronic power shortages, poor infrastructure and low growth rates. It was necessary to first solve all these problems in order to pave the way for the second stage, the stage of political reform and democratization.
Some believe the national dialogue should be organised by the Senate rather than the NAT which they say is a bureaucratic institution affiliated with the presidency…
When President Al-Sisi announced the national dialogue he directed his call to all national forces, not only to members of the Senate or the House of Representatives. He did not say that participants should be restricted to political parties with seats in the Senate and the House. If an elite dialogue had been the goal then perhaps the Senate should have organized it. But as the call for is directed to all, a neutral institution such as NAT seems ideal.
How much time do you think the dialogue will take?
If we are serious about making the dialogue a success we cannot set a fixed timetable. The timeframe needs to be determined by the agenda, not vice versa. I mean, let’s begin with discussing political reform. This could easily take three months of discussion, and once we finish we can move to another item. In the end, there will be recommendations that could need changes to legislation, or even changes to the constitution. To pre-set a timetable for such a process is difficult.
Does Al-Tagammu see a need to amend the constitution?
We think some articles of the constitution need to be put into action on the ground. For example, Article 74 states that no political party should be formed on the basis of religion. This article has never been implemented. Currently we have six or seven political parties with religious foundations. Other articles which relate to the economic system should be amended, and this will require dialogue between all participants, particularly economists, industrialists, businessmen and investors.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.