Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1318, (3 - 9 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Towards a politics of consensus

Amendments to controversial laws are being prepared in an attempt to contain public concerns, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The National Youth Conference presided over by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was held at a critical time, just as Egypt is bracing itself for more painful economic measures that some fear could provoke a popular backlash.

On Monday Prime Minister Sherif Ismail spelt out the extent of the economic crisis to MPs, telling parliament that a sweeping reform programme is needed to move beyond the current economic impasse.

The Youth Conference, convened in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh between 25 and 27 October, was held against a backdrop of calls by the banned Muslim Brotherhood for its supporters to demonstrate on Friday 11 November in protest against “deteriorating living conditions”. It could, in the words of leading political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb, “usher Egypt towards a more stable political era providing its recommendations are implemented honestly”.

“It would be a mistake,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly, “to simply repeat the recommendations for tactical reasons, in order to draw public anger and undermine any protests planned for 11 November, and then sideline the initiatives of the conference.”

“We cannot afford such a cosmetic approach. Instead, we should see this conference, and similar conferences in the future, as a necessary safety valve, relieving the country of political congestion and offering young people new hope for the future.”

Noting that the conference was held as Egypt is trying to secure a loan from the IMF the conditions for which include implementing policies that could negatively affect swathes of poorer Egyptians, Abu Taleb argued “in such conditions it is imperative to promote dialogue in order to secure the political back-up and consensus necessary to take painful reform steps.”

The conference recommended the draconian 2013 protest law be amended to allow for the release of hundreds of young people serving prison terms for violating its stipulations. A National Commission of Youth (NCY) is to be formed to review the cases of young people detained pending investigation to see whether they, too, can be pardoned and released.

The conference also advocated that press and media laws be amended to make them consistent with the 2014 constitution and that municipal elections be held by the end of this year.

At the conference’s closing ceremony on 27 October Al-Sisi insisted that he has no desire to monopolise power.

“This conference demonstrates that we are seeking dialogue rather than trying to monopolise power. What we want is for all political forces to take part in shaping policies,” said Al-Sisi.  

To implement the conference’s recommendations will require concerted efforts from many institutions, parliament, political parties and the government, says Abu Taleb. “But it is essential the process is not left solely in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians,” he warns. “They are the very people with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.”

In parliament the Human Rights Committee announced it will coordinate with the semi-official National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) to discuss how the protest law can be amended.

“The NCHR, which has always considered the protest law too draconian, has already prepared its own draft of amendments which we shall use to help reach a draft on which we can all agree. The draft of proposed changes will then be submitted to parliament,” said the committee chairman Alaa Abed.

Abed told the Weekly that the Human Rights Committee will also discuss whether or not it should hold talks with the National Youth Commission in order to determine the criteria to be applied in deciding which detainees are eligible for release. The commission is expected to be headed by political analyst and journalist Osama Al-Ghazali Harb. “I think all young people who were imprisoned for violating the protest law can be released. But anyone detained on terrorist, manslaughter, sabotage or arson charges can never be part of the initiative or receive a presidential pardon,” said Abed. Bahaaeddin Abu Shoka, chairman of parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, told the Weekly that “young people sentenced to prison terms under final judicial rulings or who were detained on terrorism or sabotage-related charges will not be pardoned under the conference initiative”.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told reporters this week that he believed the protest law can only be amended after the two appeals filed against it with the Court of Cassation have been settled. Gamal Fahmi, a journalist and member of the NCHR, disagrees. He told the Weekly it would be an unconscionable delay to wait until the appeals are settled.

“Releasing young people sentenced to prison for protesting peacefully on the street will help contain anger among political activists and prepare the ground for a national reconciliation with the disenfranchised, especially the young,” argues Fahmi. “This, in turn, will help the regime secure the broad-base of political support necessary to counter any Muslim Brotherhood protests and implement much needed economic reforms.”

Abdel-Aal also announced this week that he expected amendments to the press and media laws to be referred to parliament. The changes, he argued, would guarantee greater freedoms and at the same time put an end to the “chaos currently prevailing across the media”.  

“The State Council is about to finish revising the media laws and we expect them to be presented to parliament very soon,” said Abdel-Aal.

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