<<Young people are essential driving force for shaping a better Egypt. A better tomorrow is contingent on our actions today to enable the next generation of leadership to take up the baton, and carry the responsibility for changing the community>> Writes, Minister Sameh Shoukry
The world today faces a multitude of intertwined challenges at different scopes, where every nation is in a deep dire to meet these challenges, by mobilizing a whole host of resources and energies, from all walks of life and of all ages. Today’s young population is the largest the world has ever known. And, in an increasingly connected world, young people are showing a strong will to create the change they are aspiring for. The young people in the Middle East and North Africa were able not only to move their societies in the last few years, but the whole world. Now this energy and talent need to be channeled to achieve the political and social aspirations of our societies and shape a better future. With young people comes hope, innovation, energy and enthusiasm, and they are qualified to be promoters of change, only if there is an enabling environment to unlock the vast potential of the ever-growing young population.
|“With young people comes hope, innovation, energy and enthusiasm.. And they are capable of creating the change they are aspiring for..”|
In Egypt, there is a large and growing understanding of the need for tapping on the generational dividend and empowering the youth. As a matter of fact, young people were the leading force behind the change in 2011 and 2013 revolutions. Also, people under 35 years old represent over half of the population, account at 68.7 percent. Hence, increasing the participation of the youth in shaping the future has become a primary concern for the current leadership.
As a starting point, the government recognizes that education reform is key to improve human capital and achieve social and economic development. In Egypt’s sustainable development strategy (Egypt 2030), SDG4 “ensures inclusive and equitable quality education and promotes life-long learning opportunity for all”. We see education as a right, not a privilege. Statistics paint a compelling view of achieving significant progress towards expanding access to basic education, which account at more than 90% of eligible individuals. Moreover, there are many ongoing projects to modernize and develop the educational system in Egypt, in collaboration with our regional and international partners. Our overarching aim is to have institutions that can truly educate and prepare our young people for the challenges of the future. While this is no easy task, it is a change that can definitely be addressed.
The Egyptian government is assiduously committed to providing real opportunities for the young people to engage in both the political and economic decision-making processes. Starting from the constitution, articles 29 and 82 lay down the basis for enabling the youth and encouraging their participation in social and economic activities. The constitution specifies a special quota for young people in the parliament, and thus 10 percent of the current elected MPs are under the age of 35. Moreover, a quota of 25 percent is allocated for the young under the age of 35 in the coming municipality elections. It is clear to us that the concerns of young people need to be voiced and heard, and ensuring their active participation in the political decision-making process is one way to achieve this.
Strengthening the economic empowerment of Egypt’s young people is a top priority. To that end, the government launched the Youth Employment National Action Plan (YENAP) to support providing decent job opportunities for the young. We do believe that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are of a paramount importance to increase the participation of the young in the economic activity. Notably, the Central Bank’s initiative encourages the young entrepreneurs to start up their own business, and facilitates the expansion of existing ones. The CBE requires other national banks to allocate 20 percent of their total loaning portfolio for SMEs, with a future target of disbursing EGP 200 billion in loans to SMEs over the next four years. The aim of this strategy is to gradually increase the share of youth and SMEs in the Egyptian banks’ credit portfolio.
Egypt’s Presidential Leadership Program
In parallel, the Egyptian presidency embarked on a leadership program (PLP) to prepare the next generations for leadership. The PLP is a tailored program to increase the young’s knowledge of politics, public policy, public administration and international relations, and serves as a direct communication channel between the state’s institutions and its promising young people. The program aims to create an enabled caliber of young people who acquired the knowledge and skills to lead for the change they are aspiring for.
In addition, President Al-Sisi holds regular national conferences for the youth to discuss issues of direct relevance to Egypt’s young people. In an attempt to engage the youth from across the country in this direct communication channel, the conferences are designed to be held in different cities.
|“Youth National Conferences aim to knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging our young people about participating in political and public life.. And facilitate their move towards leadership..”|
To date, four national conferences were convened across the country. The inaugural conference was held in Sharm Sheikh in October 2016, bringing together government officials, MPs, university students, political parties, and the media, and giving them all a chance to directly debate about the present and the future. Later in February 2017, the presidency held the second national youth conference in Aswan to discuss ways to ensure that the youth are not left behind in the economic development process in Upper Egypt. The City of Ismailia hosted the third conference last April, and the attendees got enrolled in candid discussions – challenging at times – on the price hikes, health and social programs under the economic reform program. In moments like this, we neither need to withdraw nor to get aggressive against each other, but to reach out, interact, and to work thoroughly to reach common grounds. Last July, the city of Alexandria hosted the fourth conference, where the attendees discussed ways that all sides of our community can work together to achieve Egypt’s vision 2030 on economic development.
President Al Sisi was keen on attending all sessions of the conferences that usually would last for two or three days, holding open and transparent discussions, and taking notes by himself. Several noteworthy outcomes resulted from these conferences. The overarching aim was to knock down some of the barriers that are discouraging our young people about participating in political and public life, and to facilitate their move towards leadership. One of the major outcomes was to form a national committee of young people under the direct supervision of the president, in order to review the cases of young people who are held in custody in prisons and not yet convicted. Upon this, President Al Sisi issued group pardons for hundreds of young people three times so far, while the committee is now preparing its four list of prisoners to be pardoned. Further, these conferences presented real opportunities for holding societal dialogues and creating national strategies on vital issues such as education reform, media regulations, and renewing the religious discourse.
The World Youth Forum
Remarkably, Egypt will host under the auspices of President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi the World Youth Forum (WYF), from the 4th to 10th of November in Sharm El Sheikh, which aims to send “a message of peace and harmony” to the entire world. The Forum will bring together around 3000 youth, world leaders and top policy makers from all over the world, to engage in deep and candid discussions on issues that have an impact on the world youth.
|“Bringing the young around the globe together in WYF may help build a solid bridge on issues of common interest.. And create innovative solutions to the problems that once seemed insolvable to our generation..”|
In Egypt, we do believe that the voices of leaders of tomorrow must be heard today, since they will be the ones living with the decisions made today. This five-days gathering will be held under the theme of “We Need To Talk”, and it will serve as a platform for the world youth to exchange their diverse experiences, ideas and visions with top leaders on how to shape a better future.
The WYF is divided into several pillars dealing with issues of interest to the world youth, and will address the challenges facing them and the different means to overcome towards building a better future. The forum is designed to answer one vital question; how the youth from all over the world could create and share a positive vision on the future. To that end, the sessions will work on exploring how the world creates its future leaders, and reviewing the major international experiences in upgrading the skills and talents of its young people, and the role of countries and societies in creating future leaders. Further, the sessions will address issues relating to differences among cultures and civilizations, capitalizing on the potentials of young people to achieve sustainable development, and the contribution of youth to building and keeping peace in conflicts and post-conflict zones.
We see the young as the present and the future, and thus the course of discussions will be extended to tackle other issues, such as entrepreneurship and innovation, refugees, climate change, and means to enhance women political, social and economic participation. Bringing the young around the globe together may help build a solid bridge on issues of common interest among the world future leaders. And, we hope that they will be able to create innovative solutions to the problems that once seemed insolvable to our generation.
Safeguarding the Young from Extremist Ideology
Another important dimension is to protect the young from the warped interpretations of Islam, used by terrorists to achieve their insidious goals. Our prominent Islamic institutions are taking the lead in providing counter-narrative to such extremist ideology. Al-Azhar, the World’s foremost seat of Islam, has recently launched the ‘Cafés of Culture’ initiative, where convoys of religious scholars interact directly with the youth across different Egyptian governorates, to de-construct extremists’ thoughts and correct misconceptions.
AL-Azhar, along with Egypt’s Dar Al-Iftaa, are also championing efforts to win the online war against terrorism. They issue an electronic magazine called “Insight”, with an in depth analysis in different languages, and with a view to expose the criminal nature of terrorists, and promote the real values of Islamic moderation and tolerance, while placing more emphasis on various contemporary issues like Women in Islam, War in Islam etc… In addition, Dar Al-Iftaa is leading global efforts to besiege and drown out voices of extremism through the establishment of the General Secretariat of Iftaa Houses around the world in October 2015.
Today, we better recognize in Egypt the challenges ahead. We came to the point where we believe that our success depends on the creation of a truly shared-ownership community. Empowered young women and men can play a significant role in shaping a better Egypt. And, a better tomorrow is contingent on our actions today to enable the next generation of leadership to take up the baton, and carry the responsibility for changing the community.