Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi opened on Saturday the 6th National Youth Conference, which is taking place at Cairo University on 28-29 July.
During the opening session, the president promoted Defence Mnister Mohamed Zaki from the rank of lieutenant-general to general, the second-highest rank in Egypt's Armed Forces.
"We always speak about the very special relationship between the Armed Forces and the people — and it is crucial to focus on the meaning of this strong relationship," El-Sisi said before endowing Zaki with his new title in Cairo University's prestigious main hall.
Egypt's Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said during the first session, titled 'The Strategy of Building the Egyptian Person,' that character-building will be the cabinet's priority in the coming period, and that this will be achieved through education and healthcare reform, strengthening cultural identity, and paying attention to sports.
"After four years of working on security and stability, our goal is to launch the 'Egypt Takes Off' programme, [which involves] building the Egyptian character to improve the standard of living for citizens through housing projects and eliminating slums, followed by economic development to create jobs and activate the system of entrepreneurship," explained Madbouly.
The Prime Minister added that the cabinet's four-year 'Egypt Takes Off' programme will include overhauling the education system.
During the session, Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffer said that there are 120,000 academics currently working in the scientific research field in the country.
Abdel-Ghaffer also said that the government is working on opening new public universities, adding that three are currently being built in the Marsa Matrouh, New Valley and Red Sea governorates.
He also revealed that there is a plan to build three other universities for technical education.
Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy said during the session that his ministry is working to attract more investments in the field of sports and to upgrade all sports facilities across the country.
Sobhy also announced that he has prepared a programme for enhancing physical education and training for all age groups.
At the end of the session, President El-Sisi commented on several questions of education, building the "Egyptian character", and reforming religious discourse; and responded to some critics.
"The challenge of building human character is the challenge of all humanity," he said.
"We do not want to "reclaim" the Egyptian character per se but to work develop it to keep up with the times," El-Sisi said.
"The Egyptian person has been targeted [for failure] for many years in direct and indirect ways. The consequences of this have been dire," the President said.
"Are we ready to pay the price for reform and to rectify this situation, or not?" El-Sisi asked the audience.
"Do you want real education or do you want your kids to just get 'degrees'? A real education reform is a harsh long trip that requires sacrifices from students, teachers and parents."
The President stressed that people should not be worried of the call for reforming the religious discourse, saying it is needed for the nation to develop.
"If we revive the religious discourse, are you scared of losing religion?"
"What we live through now is not the real religion," the president said.
"Becoming a nation with a perspective based on peace is the rule and war is the excepion - that is the crux of reforming the religious discourse."
The President then addressed moral and social questions.
"Are you ready to accept bad manners in TV, cinema and theatre under the pretext of "freedom of creativity" or do you want good morals? There is a thin line between the two."
"The divorce rate has reached 44% and there are 9 million children without two parents at home; 15 million children whose parents are [basically] seperated."
El-Sisi reminded the audience that he argued "for the need notarize and authenticate divorces in order to catch up with times that changed in 1400 years in order to protect children and society."
"I am trying to lead this nation out a state of economic, social, scientific and moral want and poverty to become a great nation," the president said.
"And then they launch a hashtag "#Sisi_leave"! " "Do not I then have the right to be upset?" he exclaimed.
"Rebuilding the Egyptian human's personality is a social process and responsibilty and not [just] a "government operation."
"We must join hands to do this," he said.
The president finished by saying that he wants an Egyptian national character that rises to the challenges of our times.
"That is the problematic which all religions have tried to address."
"The religious discourse has to adapt the text to keep up with the present inorder to build strong societies."
More than 3,000 university students, officials, ministers and MPs attended Saturday's sessions.
The event is also attended by top-scoring 2017/18 thanaweya amma graduates.
The first day of the conference featured a roundtable discussion led by Education Minister Tarek Shawky on the development of the country's education system.
The second day will feature a special session on developing the health insurance system, and will be attended by Minister of Health Hala Zayed and a number of medical school deans and young doctors.
A session called the 'National Project for the Information Structure of the Egyptian State' is also scheduled for the second day.
There will also be a question and answer session where the Egyptian president will answer queries from students as part of the 'Ask the President' online initiative.
This is the first youth conference to be held since El-Sisi started his second term in office in June, after winning 97 percent of the vote in the March 2018 elections.
The first National Youth conference was held in October 2016 in Sharm El-Sheikh.