CAIRO: The upcoming session of the Egyptian National Dialogue was postponed indefinitely to allow for restructuring, after its first session faced heavy criticism.
Prime Minister Essam Sharaf decided to postpone the National Dialogue to hand over the dialogue’s management to the civil society. The dialogue was scheduled to take place last Sunday. Sharaf appointed former Prime Minister Abd Al Aziz Hegazy to head the dialogue instead of Sharaf’s deputy, Yehia El-Gamal.
The government’s role will now only be limited to providing financial, administrative and logistical support.
“We believe it’s inappropriate for the government to run such a dialogue” Magdy Rady, spokesperson for the Egyptian Cabinet told Daily News Egypt.
The aim of a national dialogue is to address critical challenges facing the country or hindering its development, a function that was not achieved in the dialogue’s first session. The role of the national dialogue is even more important due to the absence of an elected government or parliament so it acts as the parliament’s alternative and gains credibility and legitimacy by having a greater and more diversified representation.
“The aim of a national dialogue should be to survey defined issues of high importance,” Samer Soliman, assistant professor of political economy at the American University in Cairo explained to DNE.
The first session of the dialogue, held on Wednesday March 30, was heavily criticized by several groups including political parties and analysts.
“There was no clear criteria for attendee selection; they were chosen on personal basis and were informed a couple of hours before the session. It was nothing but a talk show with low representation,” Soliman said. “We need to know what will be done with the outcomes and conclusions of the dialogue.”
Famous attendees included Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Moussa, businessman Naguib Sawiris, Judge Hisham El-Bastawisi, Judge Tahany El-Gebali, writer and journalist Sakina Fouad, economics professor Galal Amin, leftist writer and politician Abdel Ghafar Shukar, political scientist Amr Hamzawy, political activist George Isaac, political science professor Hassan Nafei, Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson Essam El-Erian, Al-Wasat Party’s Vice Chairman Essam Sultan, Muslim preacher Moez Massoud and former secretary general of the National Democratic Party Hossam Badrawy.
The January 25 Youth Coalition issued a statement rejecting the dialogue due to the absence of predefined agenda, goals and objectives.
The dialogue was mainly criticized for inviting some attendees a couple of hours before the session and not giving enough time to each speaker. The presence of former NDP members and the absence of some key figures also brought the dialogue under heavy criticisms.
Mohamed ElBaradei, former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and current presidential hopeful wrote on his Twitter page on Saturday, “How can the National Dialogue enjoy credibility when it comes after a constitutional decree that was not discussed? And is the participation of NDP in the dialogue after the revolution a logical incident?”
ElBaradei was not present in the dialogue’s first session.
The Wafd, Nasserist and Tagammu Parties also denounced the National Dialogue.
“We were not invited to the National Dialogue neither were other parties,” Ahmed Hassan, secretary general of Nasserist Party told DNE. “The dialogue had no predefined agenda or objectives. It focused on topics related to the political environment and legislations and neglected topics related to Egypt’s current development,” he added.
“The Wafd Party should not receive the invitation to the National Dialogue through newspapers. There should have been a predefined agenda sent to the party to review and analyze before the session,” Fouad Badrawy, secretary general for Al-Wafd Party told DNE. “The dialogue should have been carried out at an earlier stage to discuss the constitutional amendments, an important topic that should have been analyzed.”
“Attendees were mainly independent figures rather than political parties’ representatives. We did not receive any invitation,” Sayed Abd El Aal, secretary general for Al-Tagammu Party said.
“The dialogue had a high Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood presence and a very low Christian presence,” Ezzat Ibrahim, general administrator of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization, told DNE. “I believe this could be a hidden message to enforce the dominance of these religious groups,” he added.
El-Erian, who spoke during the first session, criticized the dialogue during his speech saying that it was inappropriate to be invited to such an important session a couple of hours before it took place and that no agenda was outlined.
Opinions regarding the dialogue’s new management and the topics discussed ranged between hopeful and pessimistic.
“The dialogue has no clear vision,” Badrawy said, when asked about his opinion on the future prospect of the dialogue under the new management.
“We believe the dialogue should focus on outlining a strategic plan for the economic development in all sectors, alongside working on the political upbringing, an issue that was ignored in the last session of the dialogue,” Hassan explained.
“Under the new management, if the [Tagammu] party is invited, we will decide whether to participate or not depending on the agenda and the participating groups; whether they are a good representative of all political forces taking part in the revolution,” Abd Al Aal said. “Topics at the top of the agenda should include freedom and social justice. The common Egyptian should feel he is part of new Egypt just as he was part of the revolution,” he added.
Soliman was pessimistic regarding the dialogue’s future saying that there is no difference between Hegazy and El-Gamal. “Being older than 80 years seems like a condition or prerequisite for heading the dialogue,” Soliman commented.
“The National Dialogue should be run by the people with no government interference and should include all political sects. We should not wait for any support from the government,” El-Erian told DNE. According to El-Erian, the Muslim Brotherhood has called all national groups to an extensive dialogue.
Hegazy was appointed as the minister of finance under former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era. He was appointed by former president Anwar El-Sadat as prime minister from March 1973 until April 1975.