Egypt’s national dialogue will begin during the first week of July, with the pro-government head of the journalists’ union as its chief co-ordinator, organisers have said.
In a statement, the state National Training Academy said Diaa Rashwan’s first task as chief co-ordinator will be to begin consultations with political forces, professional unions and other participants to name 15 public figures and experts to sit on a proposed board of trustees for the dialogue.
“This will ensure effective participation and reaching recommendations that fit with different national visions that serve the interests of Egyptian citizens,” the academy said.
Mr Rashwan, a supporter of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, was once part of Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, a state think tank. He made a name for himself in the 1990s and 2000s as an authority on extremist groups, appearing frequently on television. He currently hosts his own political talk show on a local television station.
Aside from serving as head of the Journalists' Union and hosting the talk show, he also leads the State Information Service. which accredits and monitors the work of foreign journalists in Cairo and, through representatives abroad, weighs in on the foreign media’s handling of Egypt-related topics including tourism and trade.
Mr El Sisi first announced his intention to convene a national dialogue in April though he has yet to spell out the parameters of the process, such as whether it will cover politics and human rights topics or be restricted to discussing ways to reform vital sectors such as health care and education.
A former army general, Mr El Sisi has publicly stated his disdain for politics, arguing that he prefers to focus on modernising the country of 103 million people.
The president has made the economy and security his top priorities, while arguing that freedom of expression and the press should not be the only criteria to judge a nation’s human rights track record — the right to education, housing and health care are equally important, he has said.
Since taking office, Mr El Sisi has overseen a major crackdown on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that came to power a decade ago and whose divisive president, Mohammed Morsi, was removed from power by the military in 2013 amid mass protests against his rule.
Under Mr El Sisi's leadership, authorities have effectively banned street demonstrations and moved to control the media while slapping travel bans on critics or freezing their assets.
But the president has taken a series of steps in recent weeks that suggest he might be considering allowing a larger margin of freedom.
Since April, he has ordered the release of scores of critics held in pre-trial detention, resurrected a presidential committee mandated to look into cases of people held without trial and allowed the transfer of a prominent dissident from a maximum security prison in Cairo to a modern facility in the desert north-west of Cairo.