The National Dialogue: A tool Sisi uses to blackmail the opposition parties

53

On the fourth of February, the security services-controlled Stalinist left-wing Tagammu (Gathering) Party attacked the Civil Democratic Movement, the main secular dissident alliance in Egypt, claiming the movement the one that obstructs the national dialogue. “The dialogue is the best way to restore the June Alliance,” said the party referring to the political alliance created during June 2013 protests against the first civil and elected president in the history of Egypt, Professor Mohamed Morsi.

In response, the spokesman of the movement, Khaled Dawoud, replied that the statement is part of a broader offensive launched by the security services against the movement because the movement demands the release of political prisoners before the start of the dialogue. Dissatisfied with Tagammu‘s statement, Dawoud confirmed that the dialogue “is based primarily on differences of opinion, in a way that concerns the interest of the people they represent.”

How did the dialogue start?

In November 2021, Egypt officially announced that it would host the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for the year 2022 after it was chosen during the Glasgow Conference held at the time. The Ministry of Environment stated that this is “a new chapter of Egypt’s leadership in leading the region in climate action.” At the time of this announcement, experts and human rights activists criticized Egypt’s choice to host the conference, describing it as wrong, pointing out that the Egyptian authorities’ record in the field of human rights would undermine the credibility of the conference, especially since the participation of civil society is one of the most important guarantees for the success of the conference. In contrast, the authorities in Egypt began to select the participants in the latter. While the authorities in Egypt began to select the participants in the conference from non-governmental organizations and several organizations controlled by security, this came with international pressure to involve civil society organizations independent of security and the government to participate in this conference, so what is the solution?

On the twenty-second of April, 2022, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for an inclusive political dialogue “commensurate with the new republic” and re-established the Presidential Pardons Committee as a key demand for conducting the National Dialogue, which was later adhered to by the participants in this dialogue. The National Dialogue Committees were formed with an agreement between the figures set by the government and the participants. Still, it wasn’t serious, according to statements by the participants and independent members of the Amnesty Committee, who confirmed that the release of political prisoners didn’t rise to the acceptable level and stayed within dozens. In contrast, the arrests didn’t stop, and there is the re-arrest of released ones. The opposition considered this the minimum condition for building confidence to launch a dialogue, in addition to the demand for transparency, lifting the security grip on the public sphere, and allowing space for differences of opinion with the government without arresting activists or even ordinary citizens.

In addition to unblocking press websites, one of them, the Al-Manassa website, was re-blocked after an article published by the dissident Ahmed Tantawi, who left for Lebanon after withdrawing from the national dialogue, describing it as a folklore event, nothing more. He previously criticized the national dialogue structurally and fundamentally, considering that the dialogue “will not make a real difference except for the continuation of the same politics, regardless of failure, mismanagement and performance,” stressing the necessity of forming a civil, democratic alternative that responds to the aspirations of citizens.

What did the dialogue end up with?

During the months prior to the climate conference, Sisi’s comments on the dialogue he called for were somewhat positive, the last of which was in late October during his speech at the economic conference, about ten days before the start of the international conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, when he said that the goal of the national dialogue is “to Listen to each other.” At this time, the discussion in the international press was about the space allowed for activists participating in the climate, especially regarding the permission to protest, at a time when Cairo bans all forms of demonstration, protest, or strikes, which is faced with a brutal security grip, based on the law prohibiting demonstrations, by which the current regime rose to power.

Despite the security restrictions on the participants in the dialogue and even their choice in the first place, the national dialogue began in Sharm El-Sheikh on the sixth of November. The family of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who the latter started the water and hunger strike, turned the matter into a conference to support its son, who has been politically imprisoned for more than eight years, with an unusual activity of opposition figures meeting foreign officials to explain the poor human rights situation in Egypt. The authority summoned the organizations and personalities it chose to stand before it. The international event turned into a scandal for the regime, in which the United Nations security prevented figures of the authority from attending conferences. At the same time, the government organized a stand against Alaa Abdel-Fattah consisting of children in a new scandal of child political exploitation! The regime failed to produce a global conference on its land, which preserves its image portrayed by the country’s media. The first issue before the regime was the national dialogue.

Why does the dialogue continue?

With the government continuing its direction of releasing a limited number of political prisoners, arresting more of them, and preparing the start of the national dialogue sessions, the question arises: What is this benefit for the regime? Egypt is suffering from a severe economic crisis; Sisi and his government are accused of creating it. However, Sisi is still defending its politics. Amid a noticeable decline in Sisi’s popularity, he usually resorts to talking about the thirtieth of June and calls for a realignment behind him again to pass through the crisis, ignoring the role he played in promoting the protests to justify his military coup.

“All countries go through tests to detect their strength and resistance during a crisis.” Sisi once said this in one of his recent speeches, which we can summarise as an explanation for continuing the national dialogue. Sisi wanted to uncover the strength to choose who could stand with his regime and re-exclude the rest, which is what the Tagammu party understood and said in its statement clearly, as we mentioned at the beginning: “The best way to reunite the thirtieth of June coalition.” Still, in the same way, it failed.