INTERVIEW: ‘Differences are healthy’

Doaa El-Bey , Thursday 23 Jun 2022

Amira Saber, vice president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, speaks to Doaa El-Bey about the upcoming national dialogue.

 Differences are healthy
Saber

 

The Egyptian Social Democratic Party has never shied from discussion and was one of the first parties to express its position on the national dialogue called for by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Amira Saber, vice president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“The success of the dialogue lies in the hands of the authorities as well as the opposition,” she stressed.

Saber believes Egypt is at an important juncture. “In the past few years the priority was to deal with security issues. Now, though, it is time to deal with other issues, and to build a consensus on Egypt’s economic and political future.”

Against a backdrop of major economic disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war there is a dire need to get to grips with issues like Egypt’s massive government debt, she says, “and to overcome the internal and external challenges facing us, it is necessary to open a space for debate.”

It is important to hear the voices of as many stakeholders as possible, and political parties, syndicates and civil society should all have a say and participate in the decision-making process. “And even if the dialogue does not end up in a broad partnership, at least it will have opened the door for all viewpoints to be heard,” she says.

The dialogue, set to begin in the first week of July, will address issues related to political freedoms and economic policy, as well as areas such as the provision of health and education services.

While Saber believes it important the door is open for every party attending to express itself, she is under no illusions that sorting the wheat from the chaff in terms of proposals will be anything less than an arduous task. The National Training Academy (NTA), which is in charge of organising the dialogue, will have a tough time filtering all the proposals, she says, and it is not yet clear what the criteria will be in judging the good from the bad.

She realises how complicated a process it could be because her party engaged in a similar, albeit much more limited, process when it canvassed its own members for proposals to inform its position at the dialogue.

“To place so many competing visions on the table and to eventually emerge with a consensus will be a tough job,” she says. “The dialogue will last for some time, and will face very real obstacles before it produces answers to the challenges facing the state.”

It will be important, she believes, for the dialogue to consider ideas that may at first seem out of the box, and for no party to feel left out since “the results and outcome must be inclusive rather than selective.”

During the dialogue the Egyptian Social Democratic Party will prioritise revitalising the political scene, says Saber, with particular attention on the law governing political parties, the re-opening of space for freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful protest, and the immediate release of those detained for peacefully expressing their political opinion, including one of the party’s own deputies Ziad Al-Uleimi.

Other priorities will include spending on health and education which fall short of the percentages of GDP specified in the constitution, the burden of external debt the servicing of which threatens to undermine economic progress, and inflation rates that are leading to a living crisis.

For the dialogue to succeed, Saber argues the opposition needs to adopt disciplined language and a conciliatory tone.

“Whatever difference participants may have with the government, proposals need to be presented in a coherent way. Good will and realistic expectations are essential to the success of the dialogue.”

“And if the participants managed to produce a strategy on whose broad outlines they agree it will be a real gain for every Egyptian citizen.”   

“If the opposition parties are not serious enough, if they present unrealistic proposals, it will impede the dialogue as much as if the organisers give too little space to the opposition’s vision or refuse to take its proposals seriously.”

Saber believes that in order to maintain focus the dialogue must not go on much longer than six months and that while there will be disagreements “difference is a healthy sign.”

“Absolute agreement over any issue during the national dialogue means the voices of some parties are not being heard.”

A version of this article appears in print in the 23 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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