Egypt: Can national dialogue fix the political system?

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One of the first results of the Egyptian president’s call for a national dialogue is that he abruptly opened Pandora’s box of an extremely messy political scene. Egypt has a considerable number of new and established political parties, trade unions and civil society organizations.

However, they work haphazardly in an extremely chaotic sphere, where their roles and missions are usually intertwined, causing many of them to be either idle or manipulative.

The chaos of the Egyptian political system is one of the factors that could hinder the success of the national dialogue, or at least prevent the best use of its results. But, at the same time, fixing this political chaos is one of the topics that must be openly addressed by the participants in the national dialogue.

Comprehensive political reform is the most compelling topic on the agenda of the national dialogue sessions, which are due to start in the first week of July. According to official statistics announced by the National Training Academy (NTA), which is the institution in charge of the logistical organization of the dialogue sessions; 70 of the 386 proposals submitted by interested participants relate to political reform and securing more civil and political rights. Meanwhile, topics related to economic reform and socio-economic rights came later.

This public need for political practice is, apparently, a natural reaction to the proximity of political space over the past seven years, when the state was preoccupied with controlling the security mess that followed the Arab Spring revolution. , in 2011, and the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. Yet, in fact, the complications of the Egyptian political scene date back to the establishment of the Egyptian republic in the 1950s.

Ironically, Egypt is one of the oldest countries in the world to have a multiparty political system and a vibrant community of civil society organizations, even before the founding of many of today’s Western democracies. In the years 1907-1908, the first political parties in Egypt were created by the popular political activists of that time, such as the secular writer Moustafa Kamel and Sheikh Ali Youssif of Al-Azhar. These parties managed to contain a large part of the Egyptian youth, from all social and political backgrounds.

In the two decades following the 1919 revolution, Egyptians became more fond of social and political activism. Consequently, strong civil society organizations and political parties were formed, including the Al-Wafd party, which is still active until today. These parties were successful in organizing grassroots citizens and challenging the rule of the Muhammad Ali dynasty and the British occupation. They wrote the constitution, represented the public in parliament, held the king accountable, and formed the government. Also, around this time, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded and began to be politically active against liberal parties.

Unfortunately, this political vivacity was ruthlessly suppressed by the Free Officers movement which took over the country after the July 1952 revolution. For more than a quarter of a century, Egyptians were prevented from officially organizing political parties and political activists who tried to organize themselves into groups were brutally suppressed by the regime.

In 1976, former President Anouar El-Sadat, who adopted a relatively more liberal and progressive way of thinking than his predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser, decided to reopen the space for social and political citizen participation, via political parties. , trade unions, and civil society organizations. Yet the lack of political momentum, the lingering fear of political practice inherited from Nasser’s previous reign, and the many limitations imposed by the regime on emerging and returning parties created what are now called “parties”. cartoon policies”. That is to say, they existed on paper, but without real influence either on the regime or on the citizens.

Despite the many transformative political events that have taken place over the past decade, the problem of “cartoon parties” has not been resolved. Currently, Egypt has over a hundred registered political parties, including at least 27 parties that were formed in the years following the fall of Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood regimes. However, ordinary citizens can hardly name two or three.

The National Dialogue could be an ideal opportunity to revive these “comic book parties” and thus orchestrate the entire political scene within a liberal democratic system that enriches and elevates political life in Egypt.


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