Hundreds of politicians, activists, and experts actively took part in the dialogue’s many sessions, presenting a variety of proposals for serious reforms aimed at completing the transition towards a “new republic”, one that serves the needs of its citizens, improving living conditions and providing a prosperous future for its predominantly young population.
The aim of the participants was to reach a consensus on recommendations to be sent to the president for implementation, whether through executive orders or through the government and parliament’s two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, where the proposed laws or amendments can be made.
However, recognising that reaching agreement on all proposals is practically impossible due to the variety of the backgrounds of participants who reflect the full gamut of society’s political, economic and intellectual orientations, the National Dialogue administrators agreed from the beginning of the process, that it would be possible to submit several different proposals on the same topic to the president, who would then choose between them.
While all proposals made were of prime importance, political reforms have attracted the most attention. This reflected the desire to build a more open political system guaranteeing the rights of citizens to participate in the decision-making process. There has also been a sense that agreeing on political reforms would present a chance for a credible and balanced discussion on economic and social reforms. After all, without a vibrant political context, where political parties and the media enjoy the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, it would be difficult to hold frank discussions on any of the issues of concern to Egyptians.
On the political perspective, recommendations issued by the Political Participation and Parliamentary Representation Committee called for holding the nationwide municipal elections that have long been delayed. According to the constitution approved in 2014, those elections were due to be held within five years, and a law concerning them was also passed by parliament, but they still have not been held. The committee not only agreed on the need to hold those elections, it also recommended that the election law should be a mix of the majoritarian list system and proportional representation.
Whether for parliamentary or the municipal elections, an ongoing heated debate on the most suitable election laws has been raging, as is the case with many other countries. Opposition parties in Egypt opt for the “proportional representation list” system, compared to the current mixed “closed majoritarian list system” and “individual system” that was applied in the two previous parliamentary elections in 2015 and 2020.
Opponents claim that the current system favoured big, rich parties that support the government, and largely determined the results of the elections in advance. Granting the winner of 50+1 of the votes all the seats on the list is seen as a waste and unfair to the parties that won smaller percentages.
Yet supporters of the current “majoritarian list” point out that it was necessary to stick to this system to fulfil the requirements of the constitution to ensure the representation of women, Christians, youth, Egyptians living abroad and those with disabilities. They also point out that the “proportional representation system” is too complicated for the average Egyptian voter who for years has been accustomed to electing individual candidates rather than a particular party.
One of the key achievements of the National Dialogue may be coming up with a third alternative that provides a mix between all three election systems: majoritarian, proportional and individual, hopefully satisfying the demands of the full range of participants in one of the thorniest committees. Participants also agreed on the need to reconsider an increase in the number of deputies at both houses of parliament. They noted that this number had to be proportional to the annual increase in the number of voters. The new, impressive parliament headquarters at the New Administrative Capital can certainly cope with a possible increase in the number of deputies.
The Human Rights Committee at the National Dialogue also drew much attention and came up with extremely important recommendations on the need to amend the current “pre-trial detention law”, establish a new commission to guarantee the prevention of any form of discrimination against minorities, and approve a new law to ensure free access to information.
The president has posted on social media that he “received with great concern a number of outcomes of the National Dialogue, which varied between proposed legislations and executive measures on all political, economic and social aspects.” He confirmed that he would refer those outcomes to concerned state bodies and parliament for further study and implementation. The president’s response indicates that the National Dialogue was a serious step truly aimed at achieving a transition towards a more open and prosperous nation and not just a cosmetic step on the part of a state keen on monopolising decision-making.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 24 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly