Egypt's National Dialogue trustees call for reforms ahead of presidential vote

Changes recommended to level the playing field for all candidates

People are seen in front of an exchange bureau, with an advertisement showing images of the U.S. dollar and other foreign currency and a poster supporting Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for the upcoming presidential election in Cairo, Egypt March 14, 2018. Picture taken March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh?
Powered by automated translation

The trustees of Egypt's National Dialogue on Tuesday called for reforms to ensure the coming presidential election is "multicandidate and competitive".

In a surprisingly outspoken statement, they said all candidates and opposition parties should be allowed to interact directly with the public, something that has been strictly regulated by security agencies for years.

They also demanded that state institutions and media give equal treatment to all candidates.

President Abdel Fattah El Sisi set up the dialogue last year to help chart Egypt's path through recommendations that would be submitted to him for approval. Its 19 trustees include Members of Parliament, journalists, academics, activists and lawyers.

The board said reforming Egypt's political life had become “strongly needed and risk-free after the state and society have had success in comprehensively removing the threat of terrorism and extremism” – an allusion to the wave of terrorist attacks that followed the military's ousting of president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“The state institutions and agencies are required to keep an equal distance from all presidential candidates so as to safeguard their legal and constitutional rights as well as equal opportunity to all of them,” the trustees said.

Their cautiously worded statement, which made no mention of Mr El Sisi by name, in many ways echoed long-standing demands by opposition parties for the government to provide guarantees that the presidential election be fair and transparent.

The election is expected to be held late this year or early in 2024. Mr El Sisi, a former general first elected in 2014, has yet to announce whether he will seek a third term in office. However, he has in recent weeks addressed crowds of supporters in televised campaign-style rallies at which he defended his policies.

The trustees described their proposed reforms as “necessary measures to run a multicandidate and competitive presidential election”.

Mr El Sisi's only challenger in the last election was an obscure politician who entered the race at the last minute and openly expressed his support and admiration for the incumbent.

Ahmed Tantawi, an outspoken former MP, is the only politician openly critical of Mr El Sisi to announce his candidacy for the next election.

Mr Tantawi has complained of harassment by security agencies of his campaign staff, with more than 30 having been arrested. He also claims authorities have used cutting-edge technology to spy on him.

The board of trustees on Tuesday also called on the government to step up the release of critics held in pretrial detention and to amend the relevant law which, it said, produced “a sort of penal punishment without a court verdict”.

Travel bans slapped on critics who have not been convicted of any crime must be reviewed, it added.

Several cohorts of critics held in pretrial detention have already been released, while others who were convicted received pardons. A number living in exile have been allowed to return home.

Opponents say the measures are cosmetic and that the arrest of critics continues.

Egyptians will go to the polls as the country grapples with record-high inflation, a crippling dollar crunch and a local currency that has shed 50 per cent of its value since March last year.

The board of trustees' statement also touched on the economy, making recommendations that mirrored demands made by the International Monetary Fund when it agreed late last year to shore up Egypt's economy with a $3 billion loan.

The trustees said they wanted to see spending cuts and better budgetary control. They also called for a greater role for the private sector to “ensure competitiveness”.

The military has played a massive role in economic activity under Mr El Sisi, who says it was used in mega development projects to ensure timely execution and, in the case of food production, produce food items at lower cost for poorer Egyptians.

Updated: September 20, 2023, 4:06 PM