The 19-member Board of Trustees overseeing the national dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi last April approved on Saturday the regulations governing the performance of its 19 sub-committees and the tasks of their rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs.
At the end of two meetings on 17 September, the board also called on political and civilian forces to collect proposals on what issues should top the agenda of the dialogue from citizens and public institutions.
A statement by the board noted that the first meeting on Saturday saw an exchange of views with the 19 sub-committees’ rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs, while the second focused on the drafting of internal bylaws and procedural rules governing the work of sub-committees, outlining the tasks of rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs and the preparation of a code of conduct to regulate dialogue sessions.
“The above steps pave the way for the start of the dialogue in a way that serves the nation and the interests of citizens,” said the statement.
Saturday’s two meetings were attended by the rapporteur of the Political Committee Alieddin Hilal; his assistant, AUC professor Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed; the rapporteur of the Social Committee and former minister of youth Khaled Abdel-Aziz; his assistant AUC professor Hania Al-Shalakani; the rapporteur of the Economic Committee Ahmed Galal and his assistant researcher Abdel-Fattah Al-Gibali.
“While we took a long time preparing for President Al-Sisi’s initiative, good preparation is a precondition to ensure the success of the dialogue,” said Emadeddin Hussein, a member of the board and editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Shorouk newspaper.
Kamal Zayed, another board member, said it was now important to seek the views of ordinary citizens and public institutions across Egypt’s governorates, a process that would probably continue until the end of September, allowing the dialogue to begin in the first half of October.
The 41-member Egyptian Alliance of Political Parties issues a statement on Tuesday welcoming the consultations with members of the public. “The move aims to extend the national dialogue to every part of Egypt and make it a central topic of discussion among in places such as social clubs, cultural palaces and youth centres,” it said.
Ahmed Al-Sharkawi, a member of the board and of the Social Democratic Party, said opposition figures were on the whole happy over preparations for the dialogue.
Negad Al-Borai, a human rights activist and board member, said he has hopes that the board’s ninth meeting, expected on Saturday, will be the last.
Al-Sharkawi and Al-Borai praised the release of prisoners and pretrial detainees in recent months. In the words of Al-Sharkawi, “it sends a positive signal ahead of holding a constructive and serious national dialogue.”
On 16 September, the day before the board’s two meetings, the prosecutior-general ordered the release of 33 pretrial detainees. A further 28 pretrial detainees were released on Tuesday 20 September.
Tarek Al-Awadi, a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, said in a TV interview that more than 800 prisoners and pretrial detainees had been released since President Al-Sisi declared his national dialogue initiative in April.
“This is an ongoing process and we hope that the file of political prisoners and detainees will be closed very soon,” said Al-Awadi. He added that the majority of those released had been detained under exceptional circumstances when the state was battling terrorist elements.
Al-Awadi also said that, following the release of Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmed Al-Nagdi on 16 September, he expects two other detained Al-Jazeera journalists to be pardoned within days, and that President Al-Sisi had directed authorities to help those released reintegrate into society.
“The authorities will help those who lost their jobs because of their detention to regain them or find new employment. If there are any legislative obstacles in the way they will work to eliminate them,” said Al-Awadi.
The successive release of prisoners seems to have struck a chord with the US Statement Department which said on 14 September that it will provide Egypt with most of the $300 million tranche of aid that has been conditioned on human rights improvements. US news outlets cited senior US officials saying the move was made by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ahead of his meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukri on Monday. “Cairo has made progress by releasing some 500 prisoners and the Egyptian government made efforts to foster national dialogue,” said a US official.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 22 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.