Egypt to begin path to 'New Republic' with national dialogue

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi emphasises inclusiveness of the process to begin on Tuesday, but banned Muslim Brotherhood is the only exception

FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gives an address after the gunmen attack in Minya, accompanied by leaders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Council for Police (unseen), at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, May 26, 2017 in this handout picture courtesy of the Egyptian Presidency.   To match Special Report EGYPT-MEDIA/  The Egyptian Presidency/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
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Egypt’s national dialogue is to begin on Tuesday with a meeting of its 19-member board of trustees, who are expected to outline the parameters of the discussions.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi proposed the dialogue in March, without specifying the nature of the process or clarifying its goals.

Since the announcement, details have been shared by Mr El Sisi and organisers that it will cover a wide range of issues concerning Egypt's political, economic and social future.

Mr El Sisi, a retired army general who took office in 2014, said that he wanted citizens and groups to speak their minds. He, however, on Sunday he said that the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood will have no place in the dialogue.

Diaa Rashwan, the dialogue’s co-ordinator, last month named the 19 members of the board of trustees. They include members of the two houses of Parliament, academics, political scientists, civil society leaders and journalists.

Requests to participate by some critics who live in exile were approved, local media reports said.

"It's too early to to talk about the outcome of the dialogue, but we expect it to be positive and productive," lawmaker Ahmed El Sharqawi, one of the 19 trustees, told The National.

"We hope that the dialogue's sessions be based on transparency in dealing with whatever we may have done wrong in the past so that we arrive at findings that could be translated into executive and legislative orders that citizens can feel."

As defence minister, Mr El Sisi led the military’s overthrow in 2013 of Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist president affiliated with the Brotherhood.

The overthrow of Morsi took place amid mass protests against his divisive, one-year rule. The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, was declared a terrorist group shortly after he was deposed.

Few people, if any, expected the Brotherhood to take part in the dialogue, but the president mentioned its exclusion from the process when replying on Sunday to a question in which he recalled the country’s “ruin” at the hands of the group in 2012-2013.

His comments coincided with the ninth anniversary of the removal of Morsi from office on July 3, 2013.

Officially, the dialogue will contribute to the emergence of a New Republic, a term that surfaced about a year ago but has yet to be fully explained by the government.

However, indications point to the new republic being the fruit of Mr El Sisi’s efforts to modernise Egypt.

He recently said that, since he took office, his government has invested $500 billion to upgrade Egypt’s infrastructure, including an elaborate network of roads; the construction of at least 12 cities; power stations, solar energy farms and water desalination plants as well as overhauling the railway network.

The state National Training Academy, the dialogue’s organiser, has said it received nearly 70,000 applications to participate and that it has sent out invitations to more than 400 public figures to take part in the forum.

If the dialogue’s proceedings are freely conducted and its recommendations are embraced by the government, it will be a milestone in the rule of Mr El Sisi as well as a reflection of his government’s confidence.

His call for a national dialogue also constitutes a departure from his domestic agenda, which has prioritised security and economic reform above all else. This includes freedom of speech and assembly, as well as tolerance of dissent.

In his eight years in office, the Egyptian leader has focused on containing a long-running insurgency by ISIS-linked extremists in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula and dealing with a violent backlash by Morsi’s supporters.

“We should all be ready to listen to each other and find common ground that brings us together,” Mr El Sisi said last month. “You can criticise and say what comes to your mind and I will respond to you.

“If my response is objective and convincing but you still don’t accept it, I will accept that too … But we need to agree on one thing though: we must all work to protect this country.”

Updated: June 13, 2023, 10:56 AM