“We call upon participating political parties, professional syndicates, trade unions, civil society organisations and youth forums to send the names of their representatives as soon as possible,” said the National Dialogue’s General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan. The faster they do so, added Radwan, the sooner the Board of Trustees will be able to define the topics and finalise the timetable of debates to be discussed in the first weeks of dialogue sessions.
Rashwan had earlier complained that “the failure of some political parties to name their representatives on time has forced the Board of Trustees to push back the dialogue’s launch several times.”
In a TV interview on Sunday, the National Dialogue’s Secretary-General Mahmoud Fawzi argued that the call for political parties and other forces to send the names of their representatives did not mean that interest in the dialogue is flagging.
“Most participating forces have already sent the names of their representatives. But Rashwan wants the largest possible number of political forces to join the process and actively participate,” said Fawzi.
Invitations have been delivered to 85 political parties and 25 professional syndicates and to trade unions, NGOs, public figures, experts, and government officials.
In an interview with Al-Ahram, Amr Hashem Rabie, a member of the Board of Trustees, said the failure of some political parties to name their representatives will not delay the start of the dialogue.
Last week Rashwan revealed a new list of 16 public figures, including politicians, intellectuals, human rights activists, film stars and academics — who will be joining the dialogue’s specialised committees.
“The board is keen to ensure all segments of Egyptian society are represented and the newly announced names will make valuable contributions to the debates conducted by the dialogue’s political, economic and social committees,” he said.
The list includes Nabil Abdel-Fattah, a researcher on political Islam at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies; economic researcher Salah Zaki Murad; political activist Yasser Al-Hawari; human rights activist Mohamed Abdel-Aziz; lawyer and women’s rights advocate Maha Abu Bakr; civil society experts Zeinab Kheir, Ahmed Tamam, Reda Shoukry, Mahmoud Mortada, and Mona Ezzat; actor Ahmed Abdel-Aziz; screenwriter Abdel-Rehim Kamal; writers Ibrahim Dawoud and Ibrahim Abdel-Fattah; and journalists Mahmoud Al-Sakka, and Mustafa Kilani.
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, described the launch of the dialogue after repeated delays as “better late than never” and cautioned the event should not be allowed to turn into a venue that allows for little beyond an exchange of views.
Fawzi, in response, insisted that rather than being pre-packaged, the dialogue will allow the largest number of political forces to freely propose reforms.
Rabie said dialogue sessions, which will be held on Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays, will address serious political issues including amending laws regulating elections and pre-trial detention.
The Egyptian Civil Democratic Movement (ECDM) — an umbrella group formed in 2017 that includes leftist and liberal political parties — issued a statement on Monday saying “we have no objection to the proposal that the dialogue begin on 3 May and support any proposals that lead to a serious and positive national debate. We do, however, stress that all political prisoners should be released ahead of the start of the dialogue.”
Fawzi said the ECDM statement did not imply that it will not take part in the dialogue unless all political prisoners are released.
“The movement just wants to see guarantees that the National Dialogue will be fruitful and lead to greater political openness and freedoms,” said Fawzi. He pointed out that 2,000 prisoners, either in pre-trial detention or serving final prison sentences, have been released since President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi first called for the dialogue.
Rabie thinks the issue of pre-trial detention is likely to top the agenda of political debates, with “opposition parties demanding pre-trial detention does not exceed six months rather than two years as is the case now.”
Opposition parties are also expected to call for the election law be amended to cancel “the closed list system, on the grounds that it leads to toothless parliaments and undermines political openness.”
“Pro-government political parties,” Rabie predicted, “will argue in favour of the closed list system on the grounds that it reinforces political stability.”
Fawzi said the Board of Trustees had already proposed an amendment to the law regulating the performance of the National Election Authority (NEA) extending the NEA’s mandate which currently expires in January 2024.
“The proposal, which aims to guarantee the integrity and transparency of elections, shows that the dialogue will be a serious process that could usher Egypt towards a new era of reforms and political openness,” said Fawzi.
President Al-Sisi has directed the government to study the proposal which amends Article 34 of the NEA Law 198/2017 to stipulate that all elections and referendums are supervised by the judiciary.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 6 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly