Sisi meets intellectuals in first meeting of “national dialogue”

President Sisi met with a group of Egypt’s leading intellectuals on Tuesday morning, marking the start of a "national dialogue" between the government and prominent thinkers from various political currents. Tuesday’s meeting, the first in a series of regular meetings scheduled for the coming months, aimed at facilitating an exchange of ideas and visions for progression in the country.

The three-hour meeting was held at the presidential palace, and was attended by 24 notable intellectuals. Among those present were columnist Abdallah al-Sinawy, screen writer Wahid Hamed, Islamic scholar Youssef Zidane, and novelist Ibrahim Abdel Meguid.

The meeting covered issues currently facing the country, including the topics of human rights and freedoms, the status of prisoners, the situation of the media and the economy.

According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, participants called on the president to guarantee total, unrestricted  freedom of opinion and expression. The president reiterated his government’s efforts to balance “the security and stability of the state and the rights and freedom [of its people]”.  

On the subject of unjust imprisonment, Sisi pointed to recent pressure from the National Council for Human Rights resulting in the release of four sets of prisoners. Since the meeting, however, voices in the media have called for further action on unjust detention. Al-Shorouk columnist Ayman al-Sayyad tweeted on Wednesday morning: “Wouldn’t it be good if just one wrongly imprisoned person was released — or better still — all of them? Of course, the best of all would be a regime that doesn’t allow unfair imprisonment to start with.”  

The participants broached the subject of the Egyptian media which, Al-Ahram reported, they believe falls short in providing citizens with the truth. Ways to regulate and improve media services were discussed. Analysing Tuesday's meeting, former publisher at Al-Masry Al-Youm Hissam Kassem told news agency Aswat Masriya that Sisi “insists on a certain view of what the media is and what it should be doing”. He expressed his concern that the meeting aimed to “pressure and contain” the media further.

According to Al-Ahram, Sisi responded to questions on the current economic problems facing Egypt and the region. The President acknowledged the difficulties facing Egyptians in the current economic climate, and focused in particular on the need for serious efforts to improve the living conditions of low-income citizens, especially those living in slums.

The president contextualized the issues discussed within the broader picture of the country. “I’m a son, not a president, of Egypt …and I bear 90 million people on my shoulders,” he said. He stressed that both the good and bad effects of the revolutions "have brought forth fruit", and this should not be overlooked.

According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, regular meetings will be held over the months to come to continue the "national dialogue" begun Tuesday. Following the first meeting, Sisi has tasked attendees with forming working groups to discuss isolated issues in depth. The groups will reconvene in a month’s time to put forward their suggestions. Future meetings will invite syndicate members and heads of oppositional political parties to attend.

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