After more than a year of preparations, the National Dialogue proposed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was due to hold its opening session on Wednesday, with 1,000 public figures expected to attend.
The dialogue’s General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan said earlier this week that the 19-member Board of Trustees had decided that political track subcommittees would start meeting on 7 May, economic track subcommittees on 9 May, followed by social track subcommittees on 11 May.
“The public has a right to full information about, and transparent access to, the sessions of the National Dialogue and we are keen that media outlets are present to cover the event,” said Rashwan.
The crisis in Sudan has underlined the urgent need for the dialogue, with many members of the public increasingly concerned about the impact of the conflict on Egypt.
Rashwan said the Egyptian state is working to find a peaceful solution to the crisis and is sparing no efforts in evacuating Egyptians and other nationals fleeing the conflict.
Concerning procedure, Rashwan said: “We will ensure that only those who can contribute to the debate and serve the dialogue participate in sessions,” adding that participants should come to the dialogue with meaningful legislative and executive proposals to be presented as final recommendations.
A statement released on Tuesday said participants in the opening session will include the Board of Trustees, the rapporteurs and assistant rapporteurs of the 19 subcommittees, members of the presidential pardon committee, representatives of 85 political parties, intellectuals, clerics, presidents of universities and research centres, MPs and senators.
Journalist and board member Gamal Al-Kishki told Al-Ahram on Tuesday that the board had finalised the agenda and timetables of four weeks of political, economic, and social debates. “We have thoroughly prepared for the dialogue and hope the debates will be balanced and effective,” he said.
“We are keen that representatives of forces from different ideological backgrounds will participate in each of the dialogue’s sessions and that at least 30 public figures will take the floor during each session,” added dialogue Secretary-General Mahmoud Fawzi.
On Monday, the Civil Movement — a bloc including 12 opposition groups — voted in favour of participating in the dialogue.
“The vote included 12 political parties and 11 opposition figures, with 13 saying yes and 10 saying no,” said a statement issued by the Conservatives Party which hosted the meeting of bloc members.
A statement released on Saturday, after Rashwan met with opposition and media figures, said “the holding of an open and transparent National Dialogue must start with settling the issue of political prisoners in Egypt and amending the pre-trial detention law.”
On Monday, prosecution authorities released Al-Jazeera journalist Hisham Abdel-Aziz after four years of pre-trial detention. Head of the Press Syndicate Khaled Al-Balshy confirmed to Reuters that Abdel-Aziz had returned home. Abdel-Aziz is the second Al-Jazeera channel journalist to be released in recent months.
Mohamed Anwar Esmat Al-Sadat, chairman of the Reform and Development party, announced in a statement on Tuesday that the party was participating in the dialogue because Egypt needs to develop a democratic framework so elections can be held in a fair and transparent manner.
“The party also hopes that the dialogue will result in greater press and media freedom, political reforms, and changes to the political party law and the exercise of political rights law,” said Al-Sadat.
During a Ramadan Iftar banquet in April 2022, President Al-Sisi invited political parties, intellectuals, and experts to hold a National Dialogue to draw up a roadmap setting Egypt’s political and economic priorities to 2030.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly