Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi spoke about the necessity of reforming religious discourse and other challenges facing the country on the first day of the World Youth Forum 2018 in Sharm El-Sheikh.
In a talk during a morning session discussing the role of world leaders in building and sustaining peace, El-Sisi spoke about reforming religious discourse; which comes a few days after a terrorist attack that killed seven Copts and injured others in Upper Egypt's Minya.
"Regarding the Minya terror attack and the assault on Egyptian citizens, we don't discriminate based on religion and whether a person is Muslim or Christian. We say he's Egyptian, and we suffer for the death of any Egyptian due to a terror attack," El-Sisi said.
The issue of reforming religious discourse has often been discussed by the president in the past few years at public forums.
El-Sisi said the issue is "one of the most important demands of Egypt and the world.”
He also highlighted the right to worship for all Egyptians, pointing out that the state is involved in building a church in new neighbourhoods.
He said that Egypt has recently passed a long-awaited law regulating the building of religious buildings, especially churches.
Egypt passed a law easing regulations on church building in 2016, which has contributed to legalising 340 churches that were previously unlicensed.
“The country has been concerned with the building of churches in new cities as well as in old ones, and even for other religions, for Jewish citizens,” he said.
“A citizen who worships or even one who does not worship; everyone is free and the state should not interfere in this," the president said.
'Establishing and maintaining peace by world leaders'
The Egyptian president also spoke during the same session on establishing and maintaining peace, saying that it depends on the vision of the political leaders of each country.
He cited late Egyptian president Anwar El-Sadat’s vision as the Egyptian model to accomplish peace through the Camp David Accord signed with Israel.
“El-Sadat’s vision on peace was a unilateral action which was implemented more than 50 years ago,” he said, adding that although the late president’s vision for peace could have been rejected by other countries in the region, it was not.
'Forced change opens the doors of hell'
The president said that Egypt has foiled plans by foreign countries to interfere in its domestic affairs, and that an “ill-advised move” in recent years had opened the “doors of hell” in the country.
He also warned of attempts to change by force.
"A forced change makes us open the doors of hell," he said, adding that Egypt was among countries that were facing “national suicide.”
He stressed that the power of mobilising the youth and public opinion to change societies by force could get out of hand, creating a vacuum that would lead domestic and foreign forces to interfering in domestic affairs and toppling state institutions.
Challenges facing the African Continent
El-Sisi also spoke about challenges facing Africa, which he said is a continent rich with resources yet not administered probably.
“Africa faces very large challenges... We must highlight all the challenges and determine our priorities to be able to attain development,” the president said, stressing the importance of security and stability, which he said must be achieved first.
“This has been the political path that Egypt has been following to calm the situation in Africa, such as the efforts exerted in South Sudan, but without interference in the country’s affairs.”
He also hailed all development efforts that have been implemented in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia.
“We shall not only work on security and stability but also on the impression we leave as Africans on European countries,” he said.
He also spoke about national developmental plans by Egypt in line with efforts to restore stability in the country.
Bringing "safety and stability" to Africa is key to developing the continent, he said, stressing the need for a comprehensive infrastructure development programme in all African countries.
“It is worth mentioning that infrastructure projects in Egypt have helped us provide job opportunities for almost 5 million Egyptian citizens,” said El-Sisi.
He called for developing an effective system of governance to fight corruption in African countries, saying that the continent is notorious for insufficient anti-corruption measures.
He added that digitalisation and building efficient databases in African countries is another key measure on the path to development.
El-Sisi also spoke about the fact that Egypt has refused to build refugee camps to allow all other nationalities be merged within the Egyptian.
The first day of the forum also saw discussions on the Syrian and Libyan crises and efforts to rebuild communities facing crisis in the attendance of Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and UN Envoy to Syria Steffan de Mistura, and UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salamé.
Another session on the role of social media and the digital world's impact on the real world was also held with Egypt's Minister of Communications and Information Technology Amr Talaat speaking about digital literacy in Egypt.
Yesterday saw the inauguration of the event by President El-Sisi, under whose auspices the forum is taking place. The president inaugurated the forum "in the name of humanity, and to a world full of hope and peace."
There were also speeches from a number of young leaders, including Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad and Nelson Mandela’s grandson Zondwa Mandela.
This year, the forum’s events will revolve around a vision inspired by The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Identity, a book by Milad Hanna written for the purpose of emphasising the unity and harmony of Egyptian society despite divergences and differences, according to the official website of the forum.
WYF 2018 runs till Tuesday 6 November in the attendance of 5,000 youth participants.
The first World Youth Forum took place last year, also in Sharm El-Sheikh, which has been described by officials as the “city of peace.”