Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Young voices

Alexandria hosted the fourth round of Egypt’s National Youth Conference, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

The fourth round of Egypt’s National Youth Conference closed on Tuesday. More than 1,300 young people attended the conference, along with MPs, heads of unions and universities, journalists, public figures and representatives of the National Council for Women and the National Council for Human Rights.

The most anticipated session was one in which citizens were invited to ask President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi questions. The “Ask the President” application was launched during the third round of the conference held in April and is available on the website of the National Youth Conference (NYC). Users can register using their Facebook or Twitter account and e-mail.

In the Q&A session, Al-Sisi said that it was not important whether or not he stands in the 2018 presidential election. The important thing, he said, is for the public to exercise its right to vote. “Never give up your right to determine the future of your country, never give up voting in presidential elections, every Egyptian has to go and vote for the candidate he thinks can best secure the country’s future,” said Al-Sisi.

On revitalising the tourism industry, Al-Sisi said the government is taking all necessary steps to make it happen but it will also require a lengthy period of stability in Egypt. Asked about allowing fans to attend football matches, Al-Sisi replied any decision will be taken in consultation with the ministries of interior and youth and sports.

The recent clashes on Al-Warraq island in Cairo occupied many questioners. Al-Sisi said that the government would offer alternative accommodation in new housing projects to families affected by the government campaign to remove illegal buildings. He stressed that squatters on state-owned land cannot be allowed to place their personal interests above the public interest.

“In some countries you cannot remove a tree without the state’s approval, but here people question me when I respect the rule of law and reclaim state-owned land from squatters,” said Al-Sisi. He added that millions of citizens live in slums across Egypt, and that such areas should be eliminated by June 2018.
“We have carried out LE1.2 trillion worth of infrastructure projects, including housing, transportation, roads, and city mapping, in preparation for clearing the slums by June 2018.”

Addressing the government’s economic reform programme, Minister of Finance Amr Al-Gharhi told the conference that megaprojects launched by the government since 2014 had stimulated economic growth. While noting that the budget deficit was declining, he warned that debt servicing and the wage bill for public servants left little additional cash for education and healthcare.

Minister of Planning Hala Al-Said told attendees that all major economic sectors were on target to grow in the second half of this year. Economic indicators have not looked so positive since 2007, she said, citing the improvement in the balance of payments, which had for the first time achieved a surplus of $11 billion.

Al-Said said the ambitious “Vision Egypt 2030” development plan was already paying dividends. “It’s important that the plan continues to be implemented even if the whole government is changed,” she said. Future phases will include developing education and healthcare, agricultural productivity, road and transport networks and power-generating capacity.

Regarding the establishing of new cities, Al-Said noted that only seven per cent of Egypt’s land mass is currently inhabited. She said the government plans to construct 150,000 housing units a year, creating new towns for the middle classes.

Foreign Direct Investment was an important point of debate when Minister of International Cooperation and Investment Sahar Nasr addressed the conference. She said Egypt was targeting $30 billion of foreign and local investment in the next five years which will create a million new jobs. 

“The ministry is seeking to attract investments in a number of domestic mega-projects, including the new administrative capital and the Suez Canal Zone,” said Nasr.

She revealed that the China Fortune Land Development (CFLD) company has said it will invest $20 billion in Egypt over the next 10 years, including a major construction project in the new capital. The new city is expected to attract accumulative cash flows of around $6.7 billion and create 160,000 new job opportunities. 

Minister of Education Tarek Shawki told the conference his ministry intends to build 54,000 new classrooms by the end of 2017. He also announced that three Japanese schools will open soon.

Commenting on Shawki’s statements, Al-Sisi said that the whole education system is in need of reform.

“I know salary levels are not good, but this is because our whole financial system remains weak. But we are determined to achieve. We only have two options: we can be patient and work hard, or we can surrender,” said Al-Sisi.

The National Youth Conference takes place every three months in a different governorate. Its aim is to encourage young people to discuss pressing social and economic issues. The first conference was held in Sharm El-Sheikh in October 2016.

Two rounds have been held in Aswan, and one in Ismailia. All three previous rounds have been attended by the president, prime minister and a selection of cabinet ministers.

The first round of the National Youth Conference was held under the slogan “Innovate… Advance” and was attended by 3,000 young people. One of its results was the formation of the Detained Youth Committee which forwards the names of young detainees to the presidency for pardon.

President Al-Sisi concluded the first youth conference by saying: “Investing in young people unleashes the positive energy on which our future as a nation depends.”

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