Geography, a common history and a plethora of natural resources should encourage integration and cooperation between Arab and African countries, concluded participants at this week’s Arab-African Youth Platform in Aswan.
“The Nile Valley: The Pathway for Arab-African Integration”, a roundtable held as part of the platform, addressed the obstacles in the way of greater integration and possible ways to overcome them.
Heba Al-Beshbishi, a specialist in African affairs, said that though the challenges are grave — they include terrorism, security issues and illegal migration — the fact that they are shared should be an incentive for Arab and African countries to integrate.
Political instability that often threatens the nation state and has led to civil war in some African countries requires urgent action, said Abdel-Latif Farouk, a parliamentary researcher in African affairs.
“The gravity of the challenges requires more effort on the part of all states,” he told the roundtable.
Rashed Al-Shamsi, deputy speaker of the Arab Parliamentary Union, stressed the importance of structuring legislation to create a more hospitable climate for agreement and cooperation.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi pointed out that Arab-African rapprochement is not a new idea. Arab-African summits were convened in Egypt in 1977, in Sirte, Libya in 2010, in Kuwait in 2013 and in Malabo in 2016, and a summit is scheduled in Saudi Arabia later this year.
What the summits have revealed, added Al-Sisi, is that common factors binding Arab and African states outweigh the factors that divide.
“A crisis in one country affects the stability of the whole continent. The stability of every country should be our common goal... We should invest in the stability of each and every country before we talk about investment among countries,” he said.
Empowering youth and women is an essential component of the battle to beat instability, and “empowerment should be generated by the political leadership who can transform it from desire to reality”.
More than 60 per cent of the population of Africa is below 40 years of age, a fact that Al-Sisi said necessitates major vocational training schemes, as well as innovative ways to encourage young people to take more active roles in their countries.
Al-Sisi discussed efforts exerted via the Young Leaders Initiative and the National Academy for Training Youth, saying both were motivated by a strong belief in the abilities of young people.
Hamaza Attarawna, a local councillor in Jordan, explained how Jordan’s decision to reduce the age of candidates to 25 had allowed more young people — himself included — to stand in elections.
Jakiza Alvera, a former researcher in a project supporting African-European partnership, focused on the cultural obstacles women face in seeking empowerment.
She said women in many countries have limited access to education and fewer job opportunities than men. They face discrimination in the workplace, and are often disparaged by male colleagues.
“Circumcision is the clearest evidence of the way social traditions weigh heaviest on women,” she said. “We need to face up to these problems in a realistic way.”
Tarek Babakr Abdel-Salam, a young member of Sudan’s Conference Party, focused on the special relationship between Egypt and Sudan.
“This platform is held on the Nile, in Aswan. Both the river and the town embody the unique elements that bind Egypt and Sudan in a relationship built over thousands of years,” he said.
The two countries, he added, share a common border, language and history.
Agreeing with Abdel-Salam, President Al-Sisi added that Egyptian-Sudanese relations could serve as an example for relations between African states and Arab-African countries.
Al-Sisi concluded by saying Arab-African integration needs diligent work from all parties and requires improvements to infrastructure, including establishing a network of land and railway links.
He recommended that papers be prepared for the next Arab-African summit in Riyadh focusing on creating a common Arab-African market, ways to provide funds for start-up projects and the best ways to establish transport links and link electric grids.
The sessions, workshops and roundtable discussions held as part of the platform were an attempt to bridge the gap between young leaders and senior policy and decision-makers.
The Arab-African Youth Platform was originally mooted at the World Youth Forum held in Sharm El-Sheikh in November 2018. President Al-Sisi subsequently designated Aswan as the capital of youth.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Umbrella for Arab-African integration