Requirements for a successful national dialogue

Essam Shiha
Thursday 2 Jun 2022

Seven conditions must be in place in order to guarantee a successful outcome to Egypt’s national dialogue.

 

The national dialogue currently dominates public opinion and the nation’s agenda and is at the centre of debate among elites across the political spectrum and in the media. It has raised hopes and concerns and support for its inevitability and fear of its failure and the damage that this would do.

Everyone is invested in making the national dialogue a success, but some argue that it should be preceded by confidence-building measures. Others have gone as far as to make demands, while still others have gently asked for “guarantees” before the dialogue begins as evidence of its seriousness and the commitment to its outcomes.

As usual, there is wrangling and hyperbole. Some argue that the dialogue is a product of a crisis, while others accuse political and civil parties and forces of having no influence on the streets. Hardliners on both sides insist that the dialogue is futile. I believe that the dialogue is a crucial matter and one that must be handled with the utmost care and responsibility. There are seven conditions that need to be in place in order to guarantee a successful dialogue.

First, it must be ingrained in the minds of all the participants in the dialogue, the majority of citizens, and the elites who follow it from a distance that the dialogue is inevitable and that it cannot tolerate hyperbole, accusations, or attempts to unravel it before it even begins. I believe that everyone of patriotic feeling understands that there are many parties at home and abroad who are waiting to ambush the dialogue and who want it to fail and for whom the chasms between the parties in the June 30 coalition remain wide. The obvious question is whether there is a better alternative to the dialogue. I strongly believe that there is no better alternative and that everyone must work hard to make it succeed.

Second, the government must begin a series of urgent measures from its own volition as part of steps showing that the state has recovered its authority and therefore can now restore calm and ease the causes of tension. A key issue here is fast tracking pardons for those who are behind bars or in pre-trial detention. Meanwhile, opposition political and civil forces must move quickly and assertively to confirm that they truly appreciate the efforts of those within the state apparatus who believe in the feasibility of dialogue. I believe the opposition forces should voluntarily extend a hand to these enlightened forces and show that they are truly ready to cooperate and restore the spirit of the June 30 coalition.

Third, there should be moderate expectations of the dialogue’s outcomes because raising the ceiling of expectations will lead to frustration when they are not achieved.

Fourth, a committee of 20 competent and credible figures who are accepted and respected by all parties in the political process should be formed. This committee’s mission would be to bring viewpoints closer together and set the pace and tone of the dialogue, avoiding excesses, exaggerations, or stunts. Most importantly, it would set out an agenda of priorities and a two-year road map starting now on how to implement comprehensive reform. The committee would be best placed to communicate with the political leadership in order to advance the dialogue and avoid any pitfalls that may be placed on the way.

Fifth, no one can deny that there is an economic crisis in Egypt and that therefore this must be at the top of the national dialogue agenda. Several principles should regulate the discussion, including equity in the distribution of the economic burden, continued development across all the governorates, and a future vision to make Egypt a global production hub and a key link in world supply chains. Egypt’s position should be bolstered as a logistics zone, labour-intensive industries should be expanded to create jobs, and seven key fields should be prioritised, namely all forms of energy, information technology, the manufacture of home appliances, trade and logistics services, the manufacture of ready-made garments, agricultural manufacturing, and semi-conductor manufacturing.

Sixth, a broad societal dialogue should be launched across the country to generate public support for the national dialogue, so that the majority feels that they are part of the conversation, giving it credence and encouraging their investment in it. Popular consent would guarantee the commitment to implementing the possible understandings that will be reached. Essentially, the people will be the key guarantor of the dialogue’s outcomes.

Seventh, a clear agenda and regulations for the dialogue should be set out, along with mechanisms for their implementation. The national dialogue must be transparent and public, and the media must play its important role in ensuring that this is a rational dialogue, not a dialogue of the deaf or a cockfight.

I believe that the national dialogue should be divided into several tracks, as has been proposed, and that at the end of the process a two-day conference should be held to present the visions reached and the objective reasons behind the policies recommended and the urgent and future steps needed. 

Finally, the political leadership, which initiated the call for this dialogue based on its sense of history and national responsibility, has the right to crown the national dialogue with an overall project that will outline the features of the new republic.


* The writer is head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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