Having confronted extremely difficult challenges on many fronts – deterring terrorist extremists who rejected the will of the Egyptian people as expressed on 30 June 2013, setting the economy on the right track in order to rebuild the state and give millions of Egyptians the dignified life they deserve – the government is now ready to work on political, along with economic and social reforms.
Shortly after launching the National Human Rights Strategy, President Al-Sisi declared an end to the state of emergency that had been in effect for nearly seven years in order to confront terrorist attacks all over the country. Since then, there have been no more trial referrals by Emergency Law, in which rulings cannot be appealed, while residents of north Sinai – the site of the army’s confrontations with the terrorists – have able to move freely and return to normalcy.
Yet the key turning point was the president’s call for national dialogue in late April, nearly five months ago. Since then the rhythm and frequency of reforms and goodwill gestures have been remarkable.
A presidential pardon committee regrouped in order to look into the cases of prisoners who might be eligible for pardon. Those included political prisoners sentenced by both Emergency and Criminal Courts. The Prosecutor General’s office has also been releasing political prisoners held in pre-trial detention on a regular basis.
Overall, more than 700 prisoners have been released since Al-Sisi’s call for dialogue on 26 April. This number might not be satisfactory to opposition and human rights groups, but it is definitely a promising start. More prisoners are expected to be released in the next few weeks, hopefully in larger numbers, reflecting the government’s determination to open a new chapter in terms of political freedoms.
The president has repeatedly stated that he welcomes diverse points of views, as long as they are based on facts rather than false assumptions and take into account the many challenges with which Egypt must deal.
A board of trustees has been named, charged with careful preparation of the national dialogue sessions to start very soon. The 19 members of that board were carefully chosen in order to reflect the diversity of the Egyptian political scene and to fulfill the president’s promise that the dialogue would be inclusive.
The only exception are parties that support terrorism and reject the 2014 Constitution, drafted after widespread popular protests that led to the removal of the late former President and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, on 3 July 2013.
The Brotherhood and their supporters oversees continue to spread lies and reiterate, like a broken record, outdated arguments the majority of Egyptians find laughable. More than nine years after the Brotherhood’s removal, there is clear recognition worldwide that a “new republic” is really in the making.
The amount of money spent on infrastructure and mega projects has been unprecedented in the country’s modern history. Al-Sisi’s success in restoring stability also allowed Egypt to regain its vital regional role, helping to settle several volatile conflicts in the region or restoring calm after devastating wars, as was the case in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Recognising the hard-hitting impact of inflation and rising prices on poor and middle-income Egyptians – a situation brought about by the Covid-19 and the Ukraine crises – the government has exerted tremendous effort in order to buffer the blows.
A few weeks ago, the president announced the expansion of the Dignified Life programme aimed at providing direct financial assistance to limited-income families, increasing by 900,000 the number of families that benefit from it. The government also announced a significant increase from LE100 to LE300 which limited-income families can use to buy food at reduced prices through government-issued cards.
Meanwhile, the lessons learned from the Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war have led the government to reconsider its economic policies, working on reforms to stimulate local production in both agricultural products and industry. Egypt’s economy is not destined to depend on sources of income that are unstable due to regional and international circumstances, such as tourism, the Suez Canal and remittances from Egyptians working abroad.
Part of the “new republic” vision is to carry out ambitious infrastructure projects that are indispensable for attracting investments, creating jobs and increasing non-oil exports to nearby countries and the rest of the world.
None of these challenges are going to be easy to deal with. Yet, with determination and concrete steps on the ground, they can go hand in hand with concrete political, economic and social reforms expected to come out of the national dialogue.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.