The call launched by the National Party at the end of its first annual conference for the dialogue with opposition parties and the organizations of the civil society evoked a lot of discussion in the Egyptian political street where people asked about the seriousness of dialogues, their objectives and results which could come out of democratic reformation and development.
Concerning the horizons of change in the light of the first annual conference of the National Democratic Party, they were the subject of dialogue organized in the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies in Ibn Roshd Saloon. Dr. Aly El-Din Helal, Minister of Youths and member of the National Party board, was invited for the first time.
Bahy el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute started the dialogue by asking the questions brought up by the invitation to dialogue launched by the National Democratic Party for change and dialogue. There was a trend which saw that there was real evidence for change. Change would inevitably come whether the dialogue aimed at nothing except making the National Party look smart and beautiful. A third trend hoped that the National party was serious in its attitude towards change.
At the beginning of his talk, Aly El–Din Helal concentrated on a number of characteristics of the Egyptian political system through the last fifty years. The most important points were the modest public participation, political avoidance whether of participation as members of parties or in elections (voting), and weakness of party life. He cited the example of 1977 elections where there were more independent members than the members of other parties. As a result some problems emerged such as the commitment of candidates to the programs of their parties or the expression of the representatives of their programs and policies.
Dr. Helal referred to the part occupied by parties in the political vacuum. He said that it was less than the target, which made room for tribal, religious loyalty and the activities of other groups and forces which did not belong to parties stressing the idea that parties should occupy the biggest part of such political vacuum.
Dr. Helal added that the weakness of the general political awareness was that a big number of people lacked political knowledge or abstained from participation.
Helal went on to say that such characteristics were overshadowed by constitutional, legal, and legislative mishaps. He stressed that awareness of the future of the country required the diagnosis of challenges that faced the people and working hard to restore the public’s trust in the political process. He clarified that the greatest challenge in the light of what was happening in Egypt of economic, organizational or political reform without the participation of the public.
Helal said that that was a lesson that should not be overlooked as the continuity of any policy or programme and the successful performance of such programs surely came through transparency, social appraisal and evaluation as participation was a tool of supervision and insured continuity.
Concerning political reform which the National party advocated, Dr. Helal remarked that the expression ‘political reform’ was not among the words used or accepted by the ruling group three years ago. He added that some changes came about the language of the party such as the use of civil community instead of national community. He also said that the concept of human rights had undergone a big change and it had been placed on the agenda as it was not possible for him to drop such causes or not to talk about them.
Dr. Helal added that inside the National Party there was an increasing awareness of the existence of a close link between economic and political reforms. He was convinced of the importance of a real political diversity for the good of the National Party, and the democratic future and political life in Egypt. He also emphasized that the existence of a strong party life had become a central objective believing that part of activating the National Party itself was represented in activating opposition parties.
He added that the National Party aimed to expand public participation in all aspects and in particular political fields with emphasis on the Egyptian woman. He said that they were not satisfied with the bulk of the woman’s participation in political life. They were not satisfied with Copts’ participation either. He believed that that was one of the disgraces of Egyptian political life.
Helal went on to say that the party had prepared a document on “citizenship rights” and set it to discussion. The document presented a view that could be given to all the society, parties and syndicates to try to translate to procedures, or rules. He added that the achievement of that would be a big step forward in that respect.
He said that the document dealt with four subjects: revival of the concept of “citizenship”, modernizing the relationship between the citizen and the state, achieving Justice, and modernizing the cultural structure and political life. He said that that was a new trend in the mentality (thought) of the party. It had stopped since the 1952 Revolution as El-Wafd Party before the revolution had shouldered the concept of patriotism on the Egyptian nation emphasizing that that did not reduce the Arabicism or Islam or Christianity of Egypt. What was important was the starting point and that was ‘We are all Egyptians’.
We spoke about the low standard of living in Egypt. Arab countries coming next to Egypt were Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan. Up to 2000, the Palestinians who were under occupation were higher in the standard of living than Egyptians before the Intefada.
Helal stressed that the document which gave the Egyptians their rights and showed their duties was the constitution. For some reason the constitution disappeared, which was the “highest document in any respectable society”. Any other document did not guarantee anything to anyone. The constitution was man’s castle and no one had anything against it. It was supposed that the constitution should be introduced in all school programs as it was the only document that ensured equality, equal opportunities regardless of birth, religion, party affiliation.
Dr. Helal said that the second aspect of the document was improvement of the relationship between the citizen and administrative body. He referred to the fact that although that subject did not get due attention, it occupied a large part of the citizen’s attention. His proof was that the party paper mentioned the existence of ¾ million cases which were conflicts between citizens and the State’s machinery. There were some proposals to solve such a problem, i.e., the state should settle any financial conflict so that it could speed up settling cases and should make any legislative laws to solve similar problems in similar ways.
Dr. Helal admitted that the administrative machinery dealt with citizens as beggars and said that solving that problem represented a part of the political reform. That could be achieved by emphasis on the right of the citizen to get his basic rights with dignity.
Helal then said that there was interest in modernizing the local administration system. He believed that democracy began with the village and that administration was not super organizations. He pointed out that there were demands to transfer as many authorities as possible from the capitals of governorates to lower levels, to support decentralization and to link the society with administering its general responsibilities. This would insure the participation of a larger sector of citizens as the local level is the best which could determine priorities and problems encountered.
He said that there were objectives that should be dealt with to achieve those results. One of such objectives was legislative modernism. He referred to the existence of laws known at least fifty years ago beside the modernism of justice administration as low enforced itself through different machinery. The most serious thing in the administration of justice was that even after the verdict was pronounced, no accurate tools of execution were found or to ensure its execution. He added that one of the painful affairs was the woman’s dowry. There was a fund for that but there was no guarantee for sources of financing it. Among the ideas in the air was to fix a tax of one pound or two on each marriage contract to finance it.
Helal emphasized the fact that there was no democracy without democrats or faith in it. Democracy was not more organizations or laws but a set of recognizable values, knowledge and behaviors. He thought that it was not only in the political field but also in the social relations. He emphasized the fact that there was no democracy if anybody claimed custody for himself as democracy is based on relativity and acceptance of political diversity and the domination of the value of forgiveness.
He went on to reconsider the law of parties and to cancel the bigger part of military orders in preparation of the cancellation of the law of emergency. He said also that they had serious remarks about financing the elections stressing the necessity of existence of transparency about the sources of financing elections for all parties in addition to clearing election lists of names and trying hard to make the national number the basis of elections.
Helal expressed his sorrow for associating the invitation of dialogue with external pressures adding that the national duty necessitated the rejection of any pressure that did not cope with what they were convinced of. He went on to say that even if there were pressures that could not be openly rejected, there were a hundred alternatives to apply. Helal stressed that change was not easy because political vacuum was occupied by laws, legal and illegal forces. It was not expected, as he said, that those profiteers should leave out the place.
Commenting on what Aly El-Din Helal said, Mr. Hussein Abd El Razik, assistant Chairman of El-Tagamo’ Party clarified that what had been said showed the desire to make a limited change adding that he agreed to that. He also hoped it could be achieved. He referred that the Egyptian political system was based on the idea that Egypt was a ’Police State’ in which security ruled everything. He proved his view by saying that the security forces once stopped a peaceful congregation of citizens and activists when they were presenting a document calling for political and constitutional reform made up of seven urgent demands for political reform. Abdel Razik added that he asked the Minister of Interior to resign as it was not accepted to talk about political reform whereas security forces besieged the quarters of the parties and imposed severe measures on the peaceful movements. We added that the cancellation of military orders had nothing to do with the state of emergency. Such orders were to use the emergencies in what they were not made for and should be cancelled by a Presidential decree.
In order to realize general participation, he assured the importance of removal of all restrictions imposed on parties; the release of political detainees and suspension of torture. He attributed people’s lack of participation in elections or enlisting in Parties to their awareness of falsification of elections and that parties were not free. The main causes were far from the attention of the new thought in the National Party and that those of such thought would face will battles.
Ahmed Abdel Hafez, the lawyer, questioned the confidence of the new though of the party in executing what they advocated at a time at which there was no possibility of competition on the presidency through elections. He said that the National party got its power from three qualities: Mubarak as president and his chairmanship of the party; his ability to polarize some good characters and the involvement with the State.
Dr. Magdy Abdel Hamid, director of the Egyptian social, democratic centre, advanced the importance of having a schedule for national dialogue and tools of implementing its directions and that there should be no exclusion.
Bahy El-Din Hassan said that it would be more relevant to call the citizenship document as the citizens’ rights document. He believed that the document did not present procedures which dealt with the problems such as the small participation of the Copts. He said that the papers of the conference of the National party contained some reference to the civil community but no reference to the amendment of the law of assemblies (non-governmental organizations) which choked the civil community. He was not clear about how the dialogue with the organizations of the civil community would run and whether it would be similar to that of the parties.
In his conclusion, Aly El-Din Helal admitted that the new thought with all its associations did not move to all levels in the ruling party. He said that they were modest and knew what they had achieved and what they wanted to complete.
He said that political avoidance was not only for the present stage but it had been there since 1952 stressing that political diversity did not change that matter. He said that there could be no democracy without the acceptance of the circulation of authority.
He stressed that the dialogue would be with the political parties and the civil community only and that any other trend would be represented in one way or another in those organizations. He opposed the idea that that dialogue would be with a specific number of parties but it would begin with the parties represented in the parliament and other parties would participate at different levels besides representative of the civil sector.
He said that any dialogue had its rules and that there were meetings to prepare for the dialogue and to agree on its agenda so that no single party or newspaper would determine on its own such an agenda. He stressed that those taking part in the dialogue would determine the rules.
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