Egypt’s seventh National Youth Forum concluded two-days of meetings on Wednesday.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi answered questions posted by young people via the Ask the President online initiative in the penultimate session on Wednesday night.
Many consider the Ask the President session the forum’s most significant event since it offers the opportunity for a dialogue on the most pressing political and economic issues.
Hussein Gad, parliamentary spokesman for the Future of Homeland Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “what makes the forum’s Ask the President session so important and exciting is that there are no red lines.
“The young people that take part feel able to ask the president whatever they like, no matter how delicate or, at times, embarrassing.
“The president always answers as transparently as possible. In a few cases he refers the questions to the relevant officials, especially questions dealing with economic issues, on the grounds that the officials will be able to furnish the necessary details.”
During last year’s forum, convened in Aswan, President Al-Sisi answered questions on the rotation of power, the threat social media can pose to the stability of Arab and African countries, relations with the US and Russia, and on political life in general.
Following one question and answer session at the Youth Forum, Al-Sisi, after replying to the questioner’s concerns about the NGO law passed by parliament in November 2016, went on to request the legislation be changed. In July the law was amended to give more freedoms to NGOs.
Significantly, the latest National Youth Forum convened in the New Administrative Capital.
“This choice of venue is significant,” says Ashraf Rashad, chairman of the Future of Homeland Party and head of parliament’s Youth Committee.
“It aims to attract the attention of the world to Egypt’s new capital and the opportunities for investment there.
“The forum highlighted the great progress that has been made in building this major national construction project, and it has been done in an incredibly short period of time.”
Abdel-Hadi Al-Qasabi, head of the parliamentary majority Support Egypt coalition, told the Weekly that the youth forums, which kicked off in 2016, aim to build bridges between young people and the state.
“We saw how foreign forces were able to use disgruntled and disappointed young people to ignite the so-called Arab Spring revolutions in 2011 and beyond. The state has clearly learned a lesson from what happened then.
“The youth forum was initiated in 2016 to open up a regular channel of communication between state officials and young people.”
This year, Al-Qasabi agrees, “the forum has also served as a platform to advertise the New Administrative Capital and highlight the promising investment opportunities there.”
Al-Qasabi says economic issues dominated the forum’s seventh edition.
“This week’s discussions illustrate just how much the forum has matured. They encompassed delicate issues such as the state’s new budget (2019-20), administrative reform, the economic reform programme and coordination with the IMF.”
On Wednesday the forum also devoted a session to the Decent Life initiative, launched by President Al-Sisi in early 2019 to spearhead the drive to improve living conditions for Egypt’s poorest.
On 2 January President Al-Sisi used his Twitter and Facebook accounts to underline how the initiative is aimed at improving the lot of those brunt of the last three years’ economic reforms.
The initiative, says Al-Qasabi, addresses the problems faced by citizens living in poor villages and slum areas.
“The first stage of Decent Life targets 377 villages in 11 governorates where 70 per cent of the population — 756,000 families or three million citizens — live under the poverty line.
“The second stage will cover villages where between 50 to 70 per cent of the inhabitants are under the poverty line, while the third will target communities that have lower levels of poverty.
“Decent Life is not about offering one-off cash payments to the poorest but about providing the infrastructure that improves people’s lives. It is about ensuring people have access to potable water and sanitary drainage infrastructure, that they are provided with decent health and education services, hospitals and schools,” says Al-Qasabi.
On Tuesday, the forum was presented with two models of the future Egyptian state as young people who attended the intensive Presidential Training Programme simulated the roles they would play as MPs and government officials.
Mohamed Selim, a member of the House of Representative’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the models and the Presidential Leadership Programme both reflect Egypt’s Vision 2030.
“A key part of the vision is that younger people hold most of the leading positions in the state by 2030. They are Egypt’s future MPs, cabinet ministers and provincial governors,” said Selim.
Egypt’s openness to Africa also featured high on the forum’s agenda. The second day saw the graduation ceremony of the African Presidential Leadership Programme (APLP), an extension of the domestic programme though with continental, rather than national, goals.
“Egypt’s becoming president of the AU in 2019 has turbocharged a host of continental initiatives, including the APLP which trains young Africans for leadership posts.”
The forum, held under the heading “Innovate, Start” attracted more than 1,500 participants from across the country. It was also attended by public figures, businessmen, many African ambassadors, and representatives from international organisations.
The first youth forum was held in October 2016 in Sharm El-Sheikh.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The future is now