The board of trustees overseeing the national dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will hold a third meeting within days to finalise the agenda and timetable of debates.
MP and board member Talaat Abdel-Qawi revealed this week that the third meeting will see the formation of a committee to oversee the dialogue’s political agenda.
The board’s second meeting, held on 19 July, divided the dialogue’s political agenda into four broad areas: the exercise of political rights and parliamentary representation and political parties; local councils; human rights and public liberties, a division which Abdel-Qawi says was agreed by all the forces participating in the dialogue.
Mohamed Fayez Farahat, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) and a member of the board of trustees, said in a TV interview that the long-awaited dialogue will have three stages. The first will see the board of trustees prepare the agendas of the political, economic, and social committees. The second stage will consist of debates while the third will focus on how to turn the dialogue’s recommendations into action.
“We have already finalised the agenda of the political committee, and in our third meeting we will name the committee’s chair and members of this committee,” said Farahat.
Farahat expects the political agenda to dominate the dialogue.
“Of the almost 100,000 proposals presented to the dialogue’s administration, 37.2 per cent said concerned political issues, a reflection of the widespread conviction that political reforms are central to solving Egypt’s economic and social problems,” said Farahat.
Farahat revealed that the dialogue’s second meeting focused on amending laws regulating the exercise of political rights, the performance of political parties, and the holding of parliamentary elections.
“Once the political committee is formed, members will have to meet to reach agreement on amendments to these laws, changes that will hopefully lead to a more open society and vibrant political life.”
Farahat said the consensus is that Egypt has been suffering from political sclerosis since 2014 and the long-awaited dialogue presents an opportunity to break this cycle. Many politicians and public figures invited to the dialogue, he added, blame the laws currently regulating parliamentary elections and political parties for the political paralysis.
On local councils, Farahat said: “A law regulating the performance of local councils and municipalities was drafted by the Local Administration Committee affiliated with the House of Representatives but it has never come up for debate.” The national dialogue’s political committee will therefore draft new legislation regulating the election and performance of local councils.
Human rights and liberties will be also a major issue on the dialogue’s agenda.
Diaa Rashwan, general coordinator of the national dialogue, revealed that the dialogue’s 19-member board of trustees had called on President Al-Sisi to use his constitutional powers to release political activists detained pending trial.
“We appreciated President Al-Sisi’s decisions to pardon some activists convicted of political crimes but who were not involved in violent acts and we hope that the president will pardon more activists,” said Rashwan.
According to Rashwan, two documents on human rights — Egypt’s 2030 Vision and the National Strategy for Human Rights, released in September 2021— will form the basis of the dialogue’s debates on the subject. The two documents are a progressive step but may need some amendments and additions to better serve the human rights agenda, said Rashwan. He added that there is a consensus among political forces that laws regulating pre-trial detention need to be urgently amended.
Tarek Al-Khouli, a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, said during a TV interview that the national dialogue will pave the way for legislative reforms regulating human rights for the next five years. Laws regulating pre-trial detention are a major concern of local and international human rights organisations, said Al-Khouli. He noted that since the beginning of July 60 political prisoners have been released from detention, in addition to 700 prisoners released on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha two weeks ago.
Al-Khouli revealed that the presidential pardon committee is probing the possibility of releasing a number of high-profile prisoners, including British-Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, leftist lawyer Ziad Al-Oleimi, activist Ahmed Douma, young members of the 6 April movement, two hosts affiliated with the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel and members of the Amal (Hope) cell.
On liberties, Abdel-Qawi said the committee will review press freedoms and laws regulating the media.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.