Look who's talking
One should not invest too much optimism in the much trailed dialogue between the government and opposition parties. Ideally, this dialogue should lead to radical and long overdue political and constitutional reforms. Such an outcome, though, is unlikely. For one thing the National Democratic Party has no real interest in tinkering with the status quo and entering the unfamiliar terrain of political pluralism. Nor is much of the opposition democratically inclined. Although opposition parties in this country have for the past two decades clamoured for political reform their aims have been strictly limited. The opposition has mostly pressed for changes to specific laws and policies. Most see no reason for a complete constitutional overhaul.
At least two key opposition groups oppose genuine political change. The Nasserists want Egypt to remain a centralised state: this is the only defence -- they argue -- against the international conspiracies they see everywhere. They want central government to control all aspects of public life in the interests of national security. For them democratic reform endangers Egypt's national interests.
The Islamists want electoral reforms because, they believe, fair and free elections will guarantee them power. This is a scary prospect for many, Copts included. But they have no interest in refurbishing their thinking or acting on the principles on which a democratic state has to rest -- citizenry, freedom of religion, secularism.
The picture is far from bright. With most political groupings secretly passionate about totalitarianism how can any good come from their debates?
* This week's Soapbox speaker is editor-in-chief of the Ministry of Culture's weekly, Al-Qahira.