In pursuit of reform

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 1 Jun 2022

Preparations for a major national dialogue are being scaled up.

In pursuit of reform
In pursuit of reform


Leaders of political parties held a series of meetings this week to prepare their agendas for the national dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, writes Gamal Essam El-Din.

Wafd Party Chairman Abdel-Sanad Yamama held a meeting with MPs on 22 May to explore their viewpoints so the “positions of MPs can be incorporated into the Wafd’s document on the political and economic reforms that are submitted to the national dialogue”.  

Yasser Al-Hodeibi, Wafd’s spokesperson in the Senate, told Al-Ahram Weekly the party believes the dialogue should be divided into two parts, the first covering political reforms and the second economic problems.

Al-Hodeibi also said the Wafd believes some articles of the constitution should be amended and that at least three laws modified in order to end political sclerosis in Egypt. “We think constitutional articles such as the ones regulating the performance of the Senate should be amended to give the second chamber greater legislative and supervisory powers,” he said.

Al-Hodeibi called for changes in the three laws regulating the performance of political parties, elections, and the media to allow political parties to access adequate funding, ensure they can secure greater numbers of deputies in parliament, and that the media reflects dissenting voices as well as those that toe the government line.

Political observers note that in his call for a national dialogue President Al-Sisi invited loyalist and opposition forces to take part, and that in the wake of issuing the call has taken steps to ease tensions with opposition forces. He ordered the release of some  political activists in custody and revived a Presidential Pardon Committee entrusted with examining the cases of people held in pre-trial detention or convicted of political offenses. Some have been detained for more than two years pending investigation.

On Monday, the authorities ordered the release of lawyer Hassan Al-Said who has been in pretrial detention pending investigation since 2019, said human rights lawyer Khaled Ali in a Facebook post on Monday. A day earlier, Tarek Al-Awadi, a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, posted that cases currently being examined include researcher Kholoud Said, activist Sameh Saudi and journalist Khaled Ghoneim.

Said, a researcher and a department head at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, has been detained since 2020 on charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group, while Ghoneim faces charges of spreading false news and misusing social media.

Following the national dialogue announcement on 26 April Al-Sisi was seen shaking hands and chatting with Hamdeen Sabahi, a long-time critic who ran against him in the 2014 presidential election. Following the meeting, President Al-Sisi ordered the release of Hossam Moanis, a political activist who was the manager of Sabahi’s presidential election campaign in 2012 and 2014.

In a TV interview with chairman of the Press Syndicate Diaa Rashwan, Sabahi said the national dialogue should be run by a secretariat-general including ten high-profile public figures, five affiliated with the opposition and five with pro-regime forces.

Al-Tagammu’s Chairman Sayed Abdel-Aal told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the release of opposition political activists was necessary to create a favourable climate for the dialogue.

 “As a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, I can say that tens of political activists who are currently in detention pending trial will be released in the coming days,” said Abdel-Aal, indicating that he has also asked the committee to propose changes to the pre-trial detention law to shorten the period of detention.

Political activists convicted of crimes like using the social media to voice opposition opinions or spread rumours should be pardoned, says Abdel-Aal, as long as they have not been involved in violence.

This month, following a request by the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), the hunger striking Egyptian-British blogger and political activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was transferred from the maximum security Tora prison to West Cairo’s Wadi Al-Natroun Correctional and Rehabilitation Centre which offers better medical treatment and living conditions.

Al-Tagammu’s Abdel-Aal said such steps reflect good will from President Al-Sisi and the authorities and could pave the way for successful dialogue.

Abdel-Moneim Imam, chairman of the Al-Adl (Justice) party, believes the proposed dialogue should be limited to opposition forces. “As far as I understand, pro-regime forces will say what the regime wants to hear, while it is dissenting and opposition forces with which the president wants to build bridges,” said Imam.

Nasserist MP Diaaeddin Dawoud told the Weekly that leftist and Nasserist forces agree that political and economic reforms must both be on the table. He added that if the dialogue succeeds it will be a milestone in Egypt’s modern history, and if it fails it will be a huge setback.

Dawoud believes the dialogue should lead to lifting of state control of the media and opening the door to independent and opposition newspapers and news sites.

Dawoud and Sabahi both believe that the market-oriented policies that have been pursued since 1990 have made the rich richer and the poor poorer, and that there is an urgent need to reconsider them and promote policies more geared to ensuring greater social justice.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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