After five weeks of public sessions, the National Dialogue’s specialised committees — comprising rapporteurs, assistant rapporteurs, experts and public figures — held six closed-door meetings this week to finalise recommendations on the exercise of political rights, freedom of information and the creation of an anti-discrimination commission.
Following the meetings, Dialogue General Coordinator Diaa Rashwan said the Board of Trustees would forward proposals to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for three electoral systems to be considered for use in the 2025parliamentary elections. They include maintaining the existing closed-party list system, adopting a proportional list system and a mix of individual, closed and open proportional lists.
AUC professor Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed, Political Committee assistant rapporteur, noted that participants differed greatly over the system to be adopted in parliamentary and local elections. “Some participants favoured a closed party list system while others argued for an open list system,” he said.
Under the closed list system, the party which secures more than 50 per cent of votes in a district wins all that district’s seats. Under the open list system parties win seats in proportion to the number of votes they secure.
El-Sayed said much of the work in this week’s specialised committee closed-door meetings was directed towards ensuring that whatever election system is adopted conforms with the constitution which stipulates that marginalised groups are fairly represented on party lists.
Abdel-Nasser Qandil, deputy chairman of the Tagammu party, said opposition parties mostly favour a proportional list system which “guarantees a democratic and vibrant parliament with MPs drawn from a wide variety of political backgrounds,” though Wafdist MP Ayman Mehasseb argued that an open proportional list system was potentially confusing for the public and could prove constitutionally dubious.
“If political parties are unable to win more than 50 per cent of the votes in any one district individually, then they can form alliances to compete under the closed party list,” he argued.
Rashwan also said that following discussions the Board of Trustees would propose legislation to introduce a cap on foreign borrowing. In a public session on 1 August, economists and MPs urged the government to rein in external borrowing and end the financing of national projects with foreign loans. Mohamed Abdel-Hamid, deputy chairman of parliament’s Economic Affairs Committee, said external debt reached a record high of $165.4 billion in the third quarter of FY 2022-23, climbing 1.5 per cent from the previous quarter, while local debt had reached LE5 trillion.
Mustafa Salem, a deputy chair of the Budget Committee, noted that Egypt’s debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to rise to 96 per cent in 2022-23 on the back of a weaker pound and rising interest rates, up from 87.6 per cent the year before. Yasser Omar, also deputy chair of the Budget Committee, claimed “public debt and interest rate servicing payments are a time bomb weighing on the state budget.”
Abdel-Hamid, Salem, and Omar recommended urgent measures be taken to reduce external borrowing.
“The government must refrain from external borrowing to finance national projects, adopt austerity measures, offer more incentives to private investors, boost exports, restrict imports, and introduce reforms to reduce bureaucracy and red tape,” said Salem.
Abdel-Hamid argued that the government needs to do more to integrate the informal sector into the national economy, a step that could generate huge tax revenues. The informal sector is estimated to make up 40 per cent of the national economy.
Abdel-Fattah Al-Gebali, assistant rapporteur of the dialogue’s Budget Committee, suggested amending the Unified Finance Law to introduce a ceiling on foreign borrowing. Board member Gouda Abdel-Khalek, a former supply minister, and Talaat Khalil, rapporteur of the Budget Committee, said the government had engaged in a policy of excessive foreign borrowing since 2014.
“The result is we are now burdened with $167 billion of foreign debt and caught in a vicious circle caused by debt servicing,” said Khalil. He warned against further reliance on issuing bonds and treasury bills which “will only worsen Egypt’s debt crisis”.
The dialogue’s Education Committee held a special session on 3 August to discuss the draft law establishing a Supreme National Council for Education and Training.
“The special session came in response to a call from President Al-Sisi to speed up discussion of the draft before it is sent to the House of Representatives,” said Rashwan.
The proposed legislation mandates the council to ensure education policies align with the needs of the job market and improve scientific research. The proposed council’s board will comprise 16 members, including ministers and education experts, be chaired by the prime minister and affiliated with the president’s office.
On 3 August, the dialogue’s Family and Social Cohesion Committee discussed legislation regulating family and personal status. Participants said existing legislation should be amended to give women greater rights over child custody, alimony, and inheritance.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 10 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly