The National Dialogue: Great expectations

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 15 Sep 2022

Everything is now in place for the national dialogue to begin.



The 19-member Board of Trustees overseeing the national dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in April held a meeting on 10 September. “The national dialogue will kick off very soon to usher Egypt into a new beginning,” the General Coordinator and head of the Press Syndicate Diaa Rashwan said.

No date for the start of the dialogue has been set.

The 10 September meeting ended with the selection of Hossam Badrawi as consultant to the national dialogue. Badrawi, 69, is a politician, physician, educator, and businessman who graduated from Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine in 1974. He joined president Hosni Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in 2000 and was named its secretary-general in February 2011, days before Mubarak was ousted from office and the NDP dissolved.

Badrawi said the national dialogue proposed by President Al-Sisi is mainly a political forum that aims to gather views from participants about Egypt’s future direction, and where the country should be in 2030.

“Egypt’s 2030 vision is based on two pillars — justice and sustainable development — and the national dialogue is an opportunity to discuss these two issues which are vital to Egypt’s future. As a consultant, I will help present different views on the two issues to the National Dialogue and make sure they serve the future of this country,” said Badrawi.

Badrawi said the rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs selected by the Board of Trustees this week possess the requisite political, social, and economic credentials. “We will be working together during sessions to translate constitutional principles and Egypt’s 2030 Vision into facts on the ground,” he added.

Human rights activist Negad Al-Borai, a member of the Board of Trustees, said the selection of rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs for the dialogue’s subcommittees reflects the diversity of opinion and political positions.

“From a list of 550 nominees we chose 44 rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs and ensured that they represented the spectrum of political tendencies. They will be responsible for running the dialogue’s political, economic, and social debates,” said El-Borai.

“The national dialogue is not a debate between the government on one hand and opposition forces on the other,” argued Al-Borai. “Rather, it is a dialogue among different political forces, loyalist and opposition, and will also include social and economic experts. The expectation is that together they will reach a consensus on national priorities for the next decade.”

The list of rapporteurs includes 23 independents and 21 party affiliates. The independents include Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo (AUC). Al-Sayed is a liberal-oriented academic who has called for the process of democratisation to be given more impetus.

The parliamentary majority party Mostaqbal Watan dominates the list with seven leading members selected as rapporteurs or assistant rapporteurs. The list also includes members of the Tagammu, Wafd, Reform and Development, Adl (Justice), Dostour (the Constitution), Egyptian Liberals, and the Free Socialists parties.

Rashwan insists the Board of Trustees has worked to the best of its abilities to create a favourable climate ahead of the dialogue launch. The board has been responsive to proposals submitted from opposition forces, he said, including the Democratic Civilian Movement’s suggestion that the number of political subcommittees be increased from three to five.

The Democratic Civilian Movement faced sharp attacks from pro-regime parties when it issued a statement on 7 September calling for the release of greater numbers of secular activists to create a favourable climate ahead of the launch of the dialogue.

Two days later, however, Prosecutor-General Hamada Al-Sawy ordered the release of 33 so-called political prisoners. Hamdeen Sabahi, a former presidential candidate and the founder of the Popular Current opposition grouping, said on his Facebook page on 9 September that “the release of 33 political prisoners today is a step that renews hopes that Egypt is moving in the direction of greater political openness… I thank the president, the prosecution-general, and security forces for this step.” Sabahi went on to express his hope that “the national dialogue will discuss legislative amendments limiting the period of pre-trial detention.”

Sabahi also thanked President Al-Sisi for his decision to extend ration card subsidies to millions of Egyptians. “During the dialogue we will stress the need for stable and long-term social justice policies that help the poor live honourable and decent lives,” said Sabahi.

Sabahi also noted that “while some regime loyalists have claimed the [Democratic Civilian] Movement is allied with the Muslim Brotherhood… the truth is that we were clear from the beginning that the Brotherhood must be excluded from the dialogue.”

Farid Zahran, chairman of the Socialist Democratic Party, described the board’s 10 September meeting as a major step. “We hope the dialogue itself will begin soon,” said Zahran.

Alieddin Hilal, a prominent political analyst and former minister of youth and sports, was named rapporteur for the dialogue’s political track. Hilal said he agrees with opposition forces that the national dialogue is a must in a new era of political openness.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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