Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 October 2012
Issue No. 1118
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Towards a politics of consensus

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil has met with representatives from across the political spectrum in an attempt to forge agreement on economic policy and other pressing issues, reports Reem Leila

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil held two meetings with representatives from a wide array of political forces to discuss the economic crisis facing the government. The meetings focussed on ways to contain the crisis, with issues such as an LE1,200 minimum wage, ways to tackle corruption and strategies to recover funds stolen by members of the Mubarak regime all being discussed.

Poverty alleviation, battling unemployment and developing strategies capable of delivering greater social justice were also high on the agenda, as were reducing the current budget deficit of LE135 billion and improving health and education services.

According to Kandil, the government is seeking public support for its economic reform plans via an extensive national dialogue. "The results of national dialogue meetings already held will be presented to President Mohamed Morsi next week for further study by the presidential team," said Kandil.

Among the attendees at the meetings were Egypt's former prime ministers Ali Lotfi and Abdel-Aziz Hegazi, former secretary-general of Arab League Amr Moussa, former deputy prime minister Hazem Al-Beblawi, and former MP Amr Hamzawy. They were joined by politicians, members of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), teachers' representatives, economists and businessmen.

Former prime minister Kamal Al-Ganzouri, currently acting as an adviser to the president, was invited but did not attend.

During the meetings Kandil told those present that Egypt is facing regional challenges aimed at marginalising its role.

There were extensive discussions of the financial challenges facing the government, including late payment to oil and natural gas companies of an estimated $6 to $7 billion.

Former prime minister Lotfi argued that restructuring petroleum subsidies in a way that ensures they target only those who need them was an urgent necessity.

"Reducing energy subsidies will be unpopular but it is the only way out of the current situation, described by many economists as a bottle neck," said Lotfi.

Participants also discussed ways to tackle illiteracy, which currently stands at 40.6 per cent among females.

Teachers Syndicate head Ahmed Al-Halawani praised Kandil for canvassing opinions about what needs to be done to tackle chronic problems. He pointed out that education -- and elementary education in particular, is the cornerstone of development. "Yet at least 35 per cent of children do not complete elementary education," he says. The problem, he added, is compounded by a lack of proper school facilities and well-trained teachers."

Poor leadership, corruption, vastly unequal distribution of financial resources and lack of trust in government are among the challenges facing Egypt.

The prime minister's meetings, says political analyst Hamzawy, were an attempt to garner opinions over the kinds of radical action needed to combat endemic problems.

"Further discussions are to take place within the coming weeks," said Hamzawy, and they should include as wide a range of participants as possible.

"The mechanisms of national dialogue must be widened and all the opinions and suggestions presented thoroughly studied."

Professor of political science Hassan Nafaa believes such dialogue initiatives are essential in solving the country's problems, though "in order to be effective they must be conducted regularly".

"What really matters is the participation of different political powers in these meetings," says Nafaa. The participants must be credible representatives of the public for only then will citizens feel they are playing a role in contributing to solving the problems they face in their daily lives.

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