When I received an invitation from Chairman of the Journalists Syndicate Diaa Rashwan in his capacity as the coordinator of Egypt’s National Dialogue to participate in the forthcoming dialogue sessions, I did not hesitate to accept. In principle I welcome any open dialogue about the reforms that are needed in the country that has no preconditions or prior restrictions.
I also thought that the dialogue called for by the president of the Republic on 26 April should be welcomed by everyone because it seemed to me to be the only opportunity currently available to open up our restricted political environment.
In the interest of the success of the dialogue, I propose the following four observations and ideas.
First, the delay in starting the dialogue is a cause for some concern because it could lead to a loss of the enthusiasm and momentum required for its success.
I have read carefully and appreciate the explanation provided by prominent commentator and friend Emad Hussein, a member of the National Dialogue Board of Trustees, in his article entitled “Is the National Dialogue Proceeding Slowly?” that appeared in the Al-Shorouk newspaper last Sunday.
He explained the progress that has been achieved and the preparation for the dialogue. But the fact remains that more than three and a half months have passed since the initial invitation by the president. This is a discouraging sign, and I hope it is remedied by speeding up the dialogue.
Second, the call for a National Dialogue in my opinion was aimed primarily at starting a discussion about Egypt’s political environment, the restrictions surrounding it, and proposals that might lead to its improvement. It is true that the invitation was not specific or limited to politics alone. But there are many other channels, occasions, and meetings in which economic, social, cultural, and other issues can be discussed, while political dialogue has been halted or suspended for some time.
Therefore, it would make sense for politics to be at the centre of the forthcoming discussions. Once again, I refer to an article by Emad Hussein entitled “Should the National Dialogue be About Politics Alone or Expanded to Other Subjects? ” that appeared in Al-Shorouk last Monday. In this article, he provided the justification for opening the dialogue to economic and social issues and stated that the main reason had been to accommodate the requests of more than two-thirds of those who had responded to the call to send proposals for the dialogue agenda.
However, even if it is settled that the National Dialogue will indeed include discussions about economic and social issues, I still suggest that politics takes precedence and occupies the central space so that it provides the framework for other deliberations.
Third, I am concerned that the dialogue could get tied up in procedures and rules, branching into various committees and with its sessions and the minutes of meetings becoming highly complicated. In other words, there is a danger that the dialogue could become “bureaucratised” and stray from its intended purpose, which is to achieve a breakthrough in the political environment.
There is no better way to stifle a National Dialogue than to drown it in committees, meetings, and procedures. What is required is for the political parties and other active voices to present their views and proposals regarding the laws and policies on political activity, parliamentary elections, and guarantees of freedom of expression, freedom of organisation, and freedom of political action.
It is important to encourage the state and its agencies to interact and adopt credible proposals. This does not require an over-complicated process, and we need speed and agility in the discussions.
Fourth, there is no doubt that the National Dialogue will gain credibility not only through its open debates, but also through the tangible results it achieves. I think that the first result that local public opinion as well as international observers will expect is the release of those who have been wrongly imprisoned or are being wrongly held in custody.
It is important in this context to acknowledge that many such people have already been released since the initial call for dialogue was made, and that such moves have been positively received. But progress on this matter has raised the level of expectation for further positive news. We need to keep up the momentum required in order to maintain the enthusiasm generated by the call for dialogue.
Once again, I welcome the National Dialogue, and what I am proposing here is in the interest of its success. I hope it will be the beginning of the breakthrough the country needs in the political arena and on other critical issues.
* This article also appears in today’s edition of the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.