For the first time in President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s presidency, a national dialogue is taking place. According to a press conference/news report schedule, it is set to kickstart Tuesday, 4 July 2022.
A national dialogue can best be described as an inclusive and participatory platform for all sides of society to convene in order to raise concerns, debate matters, and propose reforms.
When Al-Sisi announced the prospect to the general public on 21 April 2022, it was met with great enthusiasm and intrigue by both proponents and detractors of the government, although certain opponents remain skeptical.
Regardless of the outcome, the presence of a national dialogue could mean a great deal for the future of the Egyptian political landscape.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO THE NORMAL CITIZEN?
A dialogue, in and of itself, is a chance for a conversation between two potentially differing parties – for differences to be expressed, for suggestions to be raised, and for viable change to take place.
“There is room for all of us in the nation […] differences in opinion do not corrupt the nation’s cause,” Al-Sisi said during the announcement.
Far from the seemingly-exclusive political parties and the headquarters of ministries, a national dialogue offers the chance for the average citizen to share his thoughts about the manner in which the country is being run openly.
This is made evident by the public registration form, available to all willing citizens who wish to partake in this dialogue. The form is available on the National Youth Conference’s official website, and over 70,000 citizens have already registered thus far. The government is also receiving proposals and inquiries via WhatsApp.
Oppositional political parties, those that represent different, more critical views of the government, will be included in the dialogue. The involved oppositional parties thus far are the El-Karama party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, the Conservative Party, and the Constitution Party – together, they are referred to as the Civil Democratic Movement, a coalition of liberal parties.
“We want the opposition to critique our work and say what they like, and it is my duty to respond. I am sure there is one thing we can all agree on, and it is that we must preserve Egypt intact,” Al-Sisi added during his speech.
It remains unclear, however, as to how many of the dialogue’s participants will be common citizens. The general observation by political researchers, and institutions like the United Nations, is that national dialogues are often dominated by political elites – government, majority opposition parties, and a select number of political and economic experts.
In terms of the logistics, the national dialogue is regulated by the National Training Academy, while a 19-member board of trustees – which features renowned feminists, journalists, senators, and professors – is tasked with coordinating the dialogue and selecting proposals to submit to the al-Sisi administration for consideration.
Head of Egypt’s Journalists Syndicate Diaa Rashwan will be the national dialogue’s general coordinator, an appointment that was met with both disapproval and support by political parties. The Civil Democratic Movement rejected Rashwan and the board’s planned proposal for how the dialogue will be conducted.
The existing skepticism, by both opposing parties and citizens, extends beyond Rashwan and the board of trustees. Skeptics worry the national dialogue will be held in a manner that caters to proposals not inclusive of all Egyptians.
Former Presidential Candidate and government opposition, Hamdeen Sabahi, believes any form of dialogue is a step forward.
“The dialogue can allow the restoration of voice plurality in Egypt, to know how to agree and how to disagree, although for the dialogue to succeed, it has to be organized by the Presidency which is a condition that we voiced,” Sabahi explained to Africa Report
Sabahi was seen greeting al-Sisi shortly after the President’s speech on the upcoming national dialogue event.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL OUTCOMES OF THIS DIALOGUE?
The dialogue’s stakeholders vary, from normal citizens, to political parties, to activists. Consequently, a mix of collective and personalized proposals are expected during the dialogue.
The Civil Democratic Movement, as well as human rights activists, have already shared planned proposals for the dialogue. Among those demands is that an equal ratio between participants and government officials is present during the dialogue.
Human rights activists and political commentators, such as Mustapha Al-Sayed, aim to revisit conversations on political imprisonment, which comes in light of Egypt’s recent national human rights’ strategy, which aims to improve Egypt’s existing human rights laws. Currently, Egypt’s track record for political imprisonment and political expression remains condemned by human rights studies abroad, such as the United States’ report on Egypt’s human rights status.
The Presidential Pardon Committee, recently reactivated in April, will play a key role in dialogues over political imprisonment which have seen the likes of Alaa Abdel Fateh and Amal Fathy behind bars.
As the country continues to endure economic recessions – starting with the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the Russian-Ukraine war – proposals on economic reforms are expected to feature in the dialogue.
The dialogue’s board of trustees intend to consider each proposal with the same level of importance, eventually filtering proposals into suggestions for al-Sisi. What is to come after that is unclear. As of now, a dialogue is taking place, for the first time in decades, making way for all opinions and political faultlines.
The post How Egypt’s Upcoming National Dialogue Matters For Future Politics first appeared on Egyptian Streets.