Nearly 70,000 people have applied online to participate in a national dialogue proposed by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. The dialogue is aimed at charting a political, economic and social course for Egypt under what the Egyptian leader describes as the “New Republic.”
The state National Training Academy, the dialogue’s organiser, said that besides the 69,530 applications, it has sent out invitations to more than 400 public figures to participate in the forum, due to begin in the first week of July.
The academy said it has also received 386 proposals from the public whose authors want them discussed during the forum, which was first announced by Mr El Sisi in March.
If its proceedings are freely conducted and its recommendations are embraced by the government, the dialogue will be a milestone in the rule of Mr El Sisi, a former army general who was elected in 2014.
His call for a national dialogue constitutes a dramatic departure from his domestic agenda, which has consistently prioritised security and economic reform above all else. This includes freedom of speech and assembly, as well as tolerance of dissent.
In his seven 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. Mr El Sisi has also tried to tackle the fallout from the ousting in 2013 of the Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, whose one-year rule proved divisive.
He recently said that, since he took office, his government has invested $500 billion to upgrade Egypt’s infrastructure.
Those investments included building an elaborate network of roads; the construction of at least 12 new cities; power stations, solar energy farms and water desalination plants; as well as overhauling the ageing and inefficient railway network.
The government has in recent weeks freed dozens of activists held in pre-trial detention and revived a committee mandated with looking into the cases of people detained for their dissent. It has also agreed to the transfer of a prominent activist from a maximum-security prison to a modern detention centre.
Last week, the Egyptian leader explained the aim of the forum.
“We should all be ready to listen to each other and find common ground that brings us together,” he told editors, senior journalists and talk show hosts last week.
“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. We will never all be of the same opinion. That would be unnatural. But we need to agree on one thing though: we must all work to protect this country.”