Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1317, (27 October - 2 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Exuberance and experience at one table

The first Egyptian youth conference in Sharm El-Sheikh gathered youths representing political parties, universities, the parliament and athletes to share their dreams and visions of the future with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, reports Inas Mazhar

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Under the theme Innovate Advance, participants of the National Youth Conference (NYC) tackled a host of issues, from the Egyptian economy, the Egyptian identity and the effects of media and social media to addiction, circumcision, fast food and administrative corruption.

The NYC is being held in Sharm El-Sheikh over the course of three days from Tuesday 25 October to Thursday 27 October. It is devoted to extending effective communication channels between the Egyptian government and prominent Egyptian youths across the country, bringing together socially responsible groups of patriotic university students, political powers, media, political parties and the first batch of the Presidential Leadership Programme.

The conference’s motto: “It’s you who is going to plant, build and develop”.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi called for the hosting of the conference in January when he announced that this year was “the year of Egyptian youths”. He had said, “Egyptian youth, with deep ambition and modern scientific backgrounds, are our key hope towards building a civilised, well-educated country. Through their dedication Egypt will long live whatever happens.”

The conference was planned to bring together Egypt’s prominent future leaders with state officials and institutions, giving them the chance to debate directly the present and the future and exchange ideas and experiences for a better future for their country through constructive dialogue and pre-planned vision.

The conference started on Tuesday with the participation of 3,000 youths from across the country. It also saw the participation of youths representing political parties, universities, the parliament and athletes. They gathered to share their dreams and visions of the future with policy and decision makers.

Al-Sisi opened the conference with a brief message. He first asked the audience to stand for a minute of silence for Egypt’s “martyrs who have died and are still falling”.

He then declared open the conference, calling for it to be held annually, every November.

Al-Sisi took part in the first session on education. To the surprise of the audience he entered into the discussion when most of the panel was calling for the necessity of improving the educational system in Egypt.

"Allow me to step in and give my input here based on my personal experiences in the countries I have visited,” Al-Sisi said. “I have witnessed in person the experiences of some of the countries you mentioned. I won’t name them but let me tell you that some countries, when they decided they wanted to improve education, considered it a top priority and the people accepted that. If we decide the same, would the Egyptian people agree to consider it a priority against other necessities of life? Would the people and youth tolerate us when we spend all our resources on advancing education or would they continue offending and criticising us?

"Our resources are few. When we take such decisions we must always think: ‘How much and from where?’ We have to think how much will it cost us and from where can we provide these financial resources. We have to learn that we can't suggest an idea without knowing how to solve it. There has to be a bridge between the idea and how to implement it. I am telling you my thoughts about what we have seen.

"One of those countries had a population of 20 million and they live in a 700 square kilometres area. They drew up their plan and followed it for 20 years and the people were with it.

"You have to consider Egypt's difficult situation. Experiences are there around us to use as guidelines and to see if it could be implemented here or not.

"Another country decided to offer free education until the end of the preparatory stage and then whoever decides to pursue further education, they pay. Then it decided to extend it for free until secondary school. They decided to create a category of educated people with a vision that those people are capable of leading the country to a renaissance and then work on pulling the rest of the population with them.

"I am addressing the minister of education and saying that I don't want educated intellectual minds. I want the minds of human beings. In one of the countries I visited, I saw them teaching students conduct and behaviour, how to become independent persons, how to be respectable by means of respecting themselves and others. I have seen 20 students in one class and if we think of applying this in Egypt, then we need a million classrooms. Do we have that space and can we afford it? Again I ask how much and from where? How can we do it when we suffer from overpopulation and growth is continuing?

"The topic of education is bigger than just one session,” Al-Sisi said. “We need to raise it to a social debate and dialogue. One of this session's recommendations should be to call for a big conference on education where we should determine the problem and find solutions. But when we suggest solutions we have to bear in mind whether they are applicable and liable to change.”

Despite the participation of most political parties, some decided to boycott the event after a meeting at the premises of Al-Karama Party. In an official statement released days before the conference, the Allied Democratic Current, which includes five political parties, announced that they studied the invitation sent to attend the NYC but decided to turn it down after listening to the views of their youth members. “Their dreams and ambitions of the country of justice, dignity and freedom have been squandered because of the current ruling policy. The ruling regime insists on continuing to imprison dozens of our youth who represent both the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions in peaceful demonstrations or fighting for their land,” the statement said.

“The parties of the Allied Democratic Flow will not participate in conferences whose targets are only to take pictures and distract attention from the real problems from which the public suffer including poverty and price increases and the absence of major services.”

However, the NYC witnessed a high turnout and participation from top officials of the state, public figures and dignitaries, parliament members and youths representing political parties, universities, centres and parliament.

The conference created a cheerful vibe in Sharm El-Sheikh. The city is vibrant with youths everywhere, especially after conference hours.

Thousands are in the city for the three days which has raised hotel occupancy rates.

As invitees were entering the conference hall, Al-Ahram Weekly caught up with some.

Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel-Aziz said the ministry’s main target is youths. “It’s the Ministry of Youth, isn’t it? As a ministry, we have always been working to enable youth to engage in political and social life through our youth centres located all over the country. For the past three years, we have either renovated youth centres or built new ones. There have also been other events and conferences that opened a dialogue between youth and officials and experts,” Abdel-Aziz said.

“Since the president has called this year the year of youth, we have already been working on projects like the Presidential Leadership Program in which they have had lots of debates. This conference now comes to conclude the year by bringing all youth from all over the country to the NYC to give them the chance to meet with officials, open up about their dreams and their problems and ask for solutions. This is a great opportunity for them,” Abdel-Aziz added.

“But this is not the end of it; it is just the start. The dialogue will continue, especially with the president now announcing the NYC will become an annual event,” Abdel-Aziz said.

Osama Al-Azhari, religious affairs consultant to President Al-Sisi, said the NYC was a “serious step towards the road of building the nation and re-establishing the personality of the Egyptian citizen. “Here, youth have the chance to bring all their problems on the dialogue table. Though Egypt is a country suffering from major problems, it listens to all points of view, especially from youth.

“I am taking part in the workshop on cultural identity and religious discourse. I hope it delivers suggestions and ideas that would be the beginning for restoring the identity of the Egyptian citizen. Egypt is the youth and youth is the hope,” Al-Azhari said.

President of Al-Tagammu Party Rifaat Al-Said said he believed it was time such a conference was held to bring together youth and officials. However, on one session, that of linking the educational system and the job market, Al-Said said it was very difficult to be accomplished in Egypt. “How can we link the educational system to the job market when we already have problems with our educational system? Students are studying some subjects that are of no use to them. It should be the opposite. We should study the market and see what the job market needs first, prepare the subjects and syllabus and then direct our youth to studying for those jobs, not the opposite. Teach him this way and then ask him to go look for a job.”

MP Mahmoud Badr said the conference was a great opportunity for youth to debate and become exposed to various experiences especially in parliament. “I can say that our experience in parliament is positive. We are about 140 members under the age of 40, the first time in the history of the Egyptian parliament,” Badr, the young man who launched the Tamarod movement which led to the 30 June Revolution, told the Weekly.

“The future carries so many challenges and here comes the role of youth and from my experience as one of them in parliament I can tell that we have had the opportunity to mingle with the more experienced members. I hope we can always be effective in and out of parliament. I believe our successful experience as youth can be taught to students one day. And I hope this conference could be held annually,” Badr added.

Representing the handicapped in parliament, Maha Shaaban said the conference was “very important because youth represent a great percentage of the Egyptian population and in parliament as well. I thank the president for giving them this chance and inviting handicapped youth to participate in the conference to hear their voice,” Shaaban said.

Suleiman Wahdan, deputy of the Deputies Assembly, described the NYC as impressive and influential. “This is a chance to learn about the visions of youth through the many general sessions and workshops that will be held. Here, youth will have a chance to deliver their messages to the top officials in all aspects of life. Egypt itself is a youthful nation. More than one-third of the country is made up of youths. The constitution itself has urged the participation of 25 per cent of youths in parliament. We already have 140 members which make it a youthful parliament. Youths are the backbone of this country. They are the ones who will have the responsibility in the future, and therefore they should be well trained and educated for their future mission.

“It is also an opportunity in this conference to raise more political awareness among youth. This is a beginning, not an end,” Wahdan told the Weekly.

Mai Al-Batran, a member of parliament and former head of the communications committee, told the Weekly that the NYC is a tribute to the importance of youth. “It is an emphasis of youth and young people who are the force that can be used to inject in the economy and political life. Young men and women constitute over 60 per cent of the Egyptian population. People between the ages of 18 to 25 are among 30 per cent of the Egyptian population.

“As such, they not only represent the future but the hopeful future, the engine of growth, age, technology, human acceptance and globalisation,” Al-Batran added.

Minister of Administrative Development Ahmed Zaki Badr said he saw the NYC as an opportunity to teach and train youth on how to become leaders in all fields of life. “We should expect to continue doing so forever, not only during these days of the conference. We are a youthful nation and its youth are the pillar of its future. The constitution allowed them 25 per cent participation in all municipalities. This is their chance to shape and decide the future

“As of now, priority should be given to youth, to their education and training in order to give them more experience. Continuous education should never stop. Youth should be provided with all opportunities to try and choose, and we hope they take the right decisions.”

Former minister of information and head of the Culture and Media Committee at the parliament Osama Heikal said the NYC represents a huge opportunity to create mutual communication between youth and the nation represented by its officials. “In this conference they are able to express themselves, speak up, demonstrate their vision and complain about their problems. But the most important point here is not to detect the problems but to find solutions.

“The general sessions are great because it is a chance to pass on experience accrued from expert speakers to youth in all fields whether political, economic or social. So are the workshops where you can listen and watch as they brainstorm their ideas and views,” Heikal said.

The seven sessions being held on Tuesday include the evaluation of political participation of youth in parliament, followed by six more sessions: the relationship between public freedom and political engagement of youth; reforming higher education and scientific research; linking the educational system and the job market; the effect of cinema and drama in forming collective awareness and behavioral patterns of youths; the causes of violence in football stadiums and how to retain spectators; and the role of small and medium-sized projects in eliminating unemployment.

On day two, participants took part in seven more sessions that tackled opportunities available for the effective participation of youth in the elections of municipalities; reformation of the pre-university educational system; maximising the utilisation of the state’s capabilities to enhance cultural activities; the making of an Olympic champion; implementing sports activities in schools and universities; maximising the benefits of national mega projects; and the role of youth in implementing the Egypt 2030 vision.

In addition to the general sessions, eight workshops and three activities were held on the sidelines of the NYC. The workshops consisted of Egyptian government simulation, arts and crafts expo, education and scientific research, cultural identity and religious discourse, a cultural salon, political sessions, the economy and entrepreneurship, and an art and innovation exhibition.

Activities included The Peace Marathon which the president himself was scheduled to lead the participants on Wednesday. The marathon shares a message of peace to the world by Egyptian youth, spreading civil peace, values, hope and non-violence. The marathon was scheduled to start at dawn in Sharm, often described as “the city of peace”, as a spark to promote peace and hope from Egypt, “the heart of the world”. It could be said that first, Al-Sisi ran for president. Now, he runs as president.

The second event is the Creativity and Innovational Youth Annual Award, which Al-Sisi decided on, to encourage youths to leave routine and innovate as an ongoing process aimed at achieving harmony with the requirements of the new Egypt. The award will be given annually in recognition of effort, talent and the endless power of innovation.

The activities will culminate tonight with a closing evening concert of talented youths exhibiting poetry, national songs and music bands.

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