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Egypt parliament debates politics and religion at public youth centres

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 25 Oct 2017
GYC (Photo: .facebook.com/officialpage.GYC)
GYC (Photo: .facebook.com/officialpage.GYC)
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Egypt's parliamentarians debated on Tuesday a draft of a new "youth institutions law", but the house is expected to resume discussion on the 47-article draft legislation in a full quorum in its next general session on 6 November.

The first article of the draft legislation, which would ban members of state-owned youth clubs from engaging in political activity, caused a controversy on the house floor.

According to article 1 of the draft legislation, members of youth centres are to be barred from exercising political or partisan activities or serving as forums for propagating ideas that serve political or religious agendas.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports operates hundreds of youth centres across the country, providing space for recreational, sports and cultural activities to hundreds of thousands of youth and children across the country.

Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal told MPs that the law's first article goes in line with Article 87 of Egypt's 2014 constitution, which states that public institutions cannot be used for serving political purposes.

Abdel-Aal added that the first draft of Article 1 did not include the word "religious agendas," but “upon the request of many MPs, the article was amended to prevent public youth centres from disseminating political or religious agendas.”

Some MPs voiced opposition to article1.

Magdi Morshed, deputy head of the parliamentary group of the liberal Conference Party, questioned why talking politics should not be allowed in youth clubs.

"The law even bans members of political parties from joining public youth centres," said Morshed, adding that "young people should talk politics and religion in youth centres because this will guarantee that they do not fall a prey to extremism and terrorism."

Morshed added that "talking politics in youth clubs will also reinforce young people's sense of belonging and loyalty to the nation."

MP Dina Abdel-Aziz, a political and economic researcher representing Helwan district in Cairo, said that "imposing a ban on politics in youth centres will lead young people to seek politics in other ways, such as joining outlawed groups.”

"So we want to ask, what is meant by the term ‘political activities’ in Article 1 of this law?" asked MP Abdel-Aziz.

In response, speaker Abdel-Aal said that "the exercising of political activities should be confined to licensed political parties only."

"There are 104 political parties operating in Egypt, and these are the ones allowed to discuss political issues and prepare political cadres and leaders," said Abdel-Aal, adding that "in line with the constitution, youth centres cannot be forums for raising political issues."

Abdel-Aal argued that "there is a difference between politics as a science and political indoctrination."

"Politics as a science includes many ideas that we study in schools and universities, but politics as an exercise aimed at indoctrinating young people to be politically active cannot be practiced at public entities such as youth clubs, which should not discriminate among its members on political and religious grounds," said Abdel-Aal.

MP Ayman Abu El-Ela, a member of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, agreed that youth clubs should not be used “as a magnet for disseminating certain political or religious agendas.”

"Talking politics should be confined to political parties, parliaments and civil society organisations only," Abu El-Ela said.

MPs also approved Article 31 of the law, which bans gambling, smoking, and serving alcohol at youth centres.

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