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July 8, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10071

Editor Of Egyptian Daily: In The Absence Of Functional Political Life In Egypt, Social Media Has Become The Country's Strongest Opposition Party

July 8, 2022
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 10071

An Egyptian national political dialogue is expected to begin in the coming days, with the participation of representatives from political parties, civil society organizations, professional associations and human rights organizations, as well as journalists, intellectuals, writers, artists and economic and social figures.[1] The dialogue is an initiative of Egyptian President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi, who on April 21, 2022, during a tour in Aswan province, had spoken of "the need for a national dialogue to coordinate the idea of building or establishing the 'new state' or the 'new republic.'"[2] A few days later, on April 26, Al-Sisi officially launched the initiative, ordering the start of a national dialogue "with all the [political] forces, without exception."[3]

National Dialogue coordinator Diaa Rashwan, who chairs Egypt's Journalists Syndicate, said that others invited to participate in the dialogue included members of the Egyptian opposition who live abroad,[4] but at the same time refrained from addressing the questions that arose in the Egyptian media about whether representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) would be participating.[5] However, in early July, Al-Sisi clarified that the MB would not be participating. In statements to media on July 3, during the inauguration of the Adly Mansour Central Station and the launch of the LRT electric train, and marking the ninth anniversary of the end of the MB rule of Egypt, Al-Sisi said that "the aim of the National Dialogue is to gather all thinkers and intellectuals, associations, and political forces, without exception, except for a certain faction" – i.e. the MB. Describing how in July 2013 the MB had rejected his proposal for early presidential elections and chose instead to take to the streets and fight, he added: "This proves that common ground uniting us all – [that is,] dialogue and discussion – does not exist [with them, and they] only want to take over the country by force."[6]

Other opposition parties in Egypt, among them Al-Karama, Al-Dustour, the Egyptian Socialist Party, and the Arab-Nasserite Party, welcomed Al-Sisi's call for a dialogue and declared their intent to participate in it, and began to draw up a joint position for political reform in the country.[7] 

This initiative may be an attempt by Al-Sisi to soften the intense criticism directed at him in the recent years by the U.S. and the West regarding issues of democracy, human rights and the treatment of the opposition.  Whatever the intent behind it, the President's call for national dialogue sparked a lively debate in the country regarding the performance of the political system and the need for a significant socio-political reform. As part of this debate, the editor of the Egyptian daily Al-Shurouq, 'Imad Al-Din Hussein, who has been appointed to the Egyptian National Dialogue's board of trustees,[8] published an article in which he decried the weakness of political life in Egypt. He wrote that, despite the large number of registered parties, the political arena is very brittle, and many parties do not function and there is nothing behind them except posters and empty headquarters.  In the absence of active political life, he said, social media has essentially begun to fulfill the function of Egypt's political opposition. It serves as an informal political platform with power and influence over public opinion and even over government decisions. Hussein expressed hope that the impending National Dialogue would strengthen the status of Egypt's political parties and promote pluralism and freedom.


'Imad Al-Din Hussein (Source: Al-Shurouq, Egypt)

The following are translated excerpts from Hussein's article.[9]

"What is the strongest opposition party in Egypt? This question has been asked again and again, especially since President 'Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi issued the call for a national dialogue in Egypt several weeks ago. This question has a conventional answer and an unconventional one. [To figure out] the former [i.e., the conventional answer], we must list the parties and state that the strength of a party is measured [first of all] by the extent of the public's participation in it, and then by the number of seats it won in various elections, especially in the municipal and parliamentary elections… But, since we know the truth about most of the parties in Egypt and understand that the political arena is very brittle, and given that, in the last parliamentary elections, numerous parties united into one list, it is difficult to objectively assess their real power, even though we have over 100 registered and recognized parties. The second, unconventional, answer is that, due to the weakness of traditional political life [in Egypt] and the weakness of most of the parties, and since some of them have merged into parties that are close in their positions to the government, many parties have become nothing more than posters and empty headquarters…  

"In light of the experience of the recent years, I believe that social media has become Egypt's main opposition party. It were supposed to be just social media, as it is in most of the world's countries that have active political forces and parties and vivid political life. But since the parties, political forces and associations [in Egypt] are non-functional, social media has become an unofficial and undeclared political platform that not only possesses considerable power, influence and prestige among the public, but has even begun to impact the passing or canceling of [official] decisions, as evident in the case of many issues that occupied public opinion [in Egypt lately]…

"Some will say that social media is full of fake news, and this is completely true. In fact, some even call social media 'the kingdom of lies.' However, it is also true that [social media] has become the loudest and most influential public voice in society, and, despite all the fake news, it largely reflects public opinion in Egypt.

 "I think that, had Egypt had real political parties and forces or an active civil society, the various voices in society could be [heard], and social media would have remained social media and nothing more. But, in the absence of parties and due to their weakness, social media has begun to function as a kind of opposition party, but without specific leaders, since the leaders change from day to day, depending on the issue at hand.

"The lack of pluralism and freedom in some of the [Egyptian] media, whether traditional media or online, strengthens social media, which provides unlimited freedom and can often get out of hand. I believe that, if the national dialogue manages to open up the public sphere and allow freedom, even to a calculated [extent], this will strengthen the parties and media that operate according to the law and the constitution, and return social media to its natural role as social media rather than [an alternative to] opposition parties or even parties that support [the government]."

 

[1] Al-Arab (London), April 28, 2022. The first meeting of the board of trustees  of the Egyptian National Dialogue was held July 5, 2022. In advance of the meeting, Egyptian Journalists Syndicate chairperson Diaa Rashwan, the National Dialogue coordinator, called it the official opening of the National Dialogue's activity, and added that the meeting would discuss the dialogue's details and schedule and would make necessary decisions that would be released to the public. Mena.org.eg, July 3, 2022.

[2] Soutalomma.com, April 21, 2022.

[3] Almasryalyoum.com, April 26, 2022.

[4] Among those mentioned by Rashwan were the intellectuals Tareq Heggy and Amro Hamzawi, as well as media figure Jihan Mansour, who live in the U.S. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 27, 2022.

[5] Al-Sisi's call for a national dialogue immediately sparked a discussion in the Egyptian media regarding the MB's participation. As for the MB itself, some factions of the movement hastened to welcome the initiative, expressing a desire to participate in it. For more on this, see Ikhwan.site, April 30, 2022. Others opposed the dialogue; for more on this, see Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 27, 2022.

[6] Mena.org.eg. July 3, 2022.

[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 16, 2022; Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 16, 2022.

[8] Raialyoum.com, June 26, 2022.

[9] Al-Shurouq (Egypt), June 5, 2022.

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