The 19-member Board of Trustees overseeing the National Dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced that sessions will start “very soon”.
“The board will meet midweek to hold a final meeting and set a date for the actual kickoff, which will be within days,” the National Dialogue’s General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan said on 12 January.
Rashwan admitted that preparations had taken a long time.
“The Board of Trustees held 18 meetings over a period of six months to prepare for the dialogue,” said Rashwan. It took three months to select rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs for the dialogue’s three tracks (political, economic, and social). It also took time to ensure all political, economic, and social forces are represented, said Rashwan. Representatives from 85 political parties, 25 professional syndicates, trade unions, NGOs, as well as public figures, experts, and government officials will attend the dialogue sessions.
“We had hoped that the dialogue could start in the first half of January, but due to the regrettable failure of political parties to name their representatives on time we had to push back the launch date,” said Rashwan, who is also head of the Press Syndicate.
Political parties should send the names of their representatives this week at the latest, after which the board will hold a final meeting to finalise the timetable of debates of subcommittee meetings.
Rashwan said he was “confident all participants will take the dialogue seriously” and underlined that there is no pre-determined scenario. Participants will be required to propose and recommend solutions that will be submitted to the president and the House of Representatives to be implemented.
“Except for the constitution, national security, and foreign policy, which are already a matter of consensus, all issues will be on the table,” said Rashwan.
MP Talaat Abdel-Qawi, a member of the board, said a majority of political parties have named their representatives.
The Civilian Democratic Movement, an alliance of leftist and liberal opposition political parties, announced last week their delegates to the dialogue. The list includes leftist lawyers Ziad Al-Oleimi and Hossam Moenis; former head of the Press Syndicate Yehia Qallash; MPs Diaaeddin Dawoud, Maha Abdel-Nasser, Abdel-Moneim Imam and Rawan Lasheen: head of the Syndicate of Engineers Tarek Al-Nabarawi; former minister of manpower Kamal Abu Eita; former health minister Amr Helmi and former deputy prime minister Ziad Bahaaeddin.
Meanwhile, political parties said they are ready for the national dialogue. Sayed Abdel-Aal, head of the leftist Tagammu Party, said political parties have high hopes that the National Dialogue will lead to greater political openness in Egypt. “Political reforms will lead to greater democracy, openness, and press freedoms,” said Abdel-Aal.Essam Khalil, head of the Free Egyptians Party, said the party’s vision for political reform focuses on amending the laws regulating elections, political parties, and exercise of political parties.Political parties also welcomed the release of another batch of pretrial detainees this week. Abdel-Aal said the release of political activists paves the way for a successful National Dialogue. “It signals that authorities are serious about political reform and freedom of speech,” he added.According to an announcement posted on Facebook by lawyer Tarek Al-Awadi, who is a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, 31 pretrial detainees were released on Monday. The released detainees were jailed pending investigation in different cases between 2019 and 2022.Among those released on Monday are socialist Alexandrian activist and author Hassan Mustafa, who was arrested in December 2019. Also among them is painter Amir Abdel-Ghani, who was arrested in September 2022 for joining a terrorist organisation and spreading false news.According to Rashwan, more than 2,000 political activists have been released since President Al-Sisi called for a national dialogue in April 2022.
The dialogue’s 19 subcommittees will meet between three and six times a week, said Rashwan, with a ceiling of 30 attendees per session. Debates will be broken down as follows: 20 for the political track, 30 for the economic track and 33 for the social track.
According to a statement published on its Facebook page on 12 January, the political track’s five subcommittees will discuss key laws regulating the election of the House of Representatives, the Senate, political parties, local councils, and NGOs. The restoration of complete judicial supervision of parliamentary elections will also be debated, together with human rights issues and public freedoms, prison conditions, torture and amending laws related to the penal code, custodial imprisonment, and press freedom.
The economic track’s eight subcommittees will discuss 30 issues, with rising inflation and public debt topping the agenda.
The Inflation and High Prices Subcommittee will discuss the reasons behind inflation and how it can be contained. The remaining seven subcommittees will discuss public debt, the budget deficit, fiscal reform, general investment priorities, ownership and management of state-owned assets, the funding of public investment, local and foreign private investment, industry, agriculture and food security, social justice, and tourism. The economic track will also discuss the recently introduced State Ownership Policy Document and the role of the Sovereign Fund of Egypt in attracting investments.
The social track’s six subcommittees will focus on education, the independence of universities, scientific research, health insurance, the drug industry, population growth, family problems, including divorce and familial violence, culture, including cinema and publishing, and political indoctrination of young people.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi called for the dialogue during the annual Egyptian Family Iftar banquet in April 2022, inviting intellectuals, syndicates and political forces to take part and making it clear that he would attend the final debates.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt designated a terrorist organisation in 2013, will not be taking part in the dialogue.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.