Egypt's youth and the president: Past and future issues

Ahmed El-Sayed Al-Naggar
Wednesday 26 Nov 2014

Among top priorities of the youth in a new Egypt are the protest law, political participation, and effective development, as discussed in three gatherings held prior to a planned meeting with the president

Perhaps it would be repetitive to say that Egypt is standing before a decisive moment in its history, one upon which its future and destiny depends for years to come. This moment became extended since the January 25 Revolution broke out against deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak and his corrupt and unjust regime until now.

In this extended decisive moment, the options laid before the youth and their relationship with the state seem an important factor in exiting from inherited dilemmas of stagnation, corruption and suppression, in building political stability, heading towards a future in which this great people's dreams of freedom, equality, human dignity, economic development, justice and national independence blossom.

In this context, Al-Ahram Establishment welcomed the president's assignment to organise a youth conference in which the president will meet youth leaders to conduct a dialogue about national issues — at its core the issues of democratic freedoms and political participation of the youth, their vision of Egypt's political and economic future in the forthcoming stage, or in the new Egypt we dream of.

Being in the prime of their life, youth move and think through their consciences and what they dream for Egypt and their generation regardless of the specialists' complications or what can be achieved within local, regional and international circumstances. However, this dream, which is free from the complications and frustrations of Mubarak's years of failure, is a very significant engine for proceeding towards the future with boldness, driven by the vigour of youth, backed by the experience of those who can soar with dreams and transform them into reality through studied calculations not via wishful thoughts.

Al-Ahram Establishment organised three preliminary hearing sessions in which hundreds of youth participated in the form of a roundtable sometimes and a large conference at other times. There were those who participated once or in the three sessions representing the Arab Popular Movement Party-Tamarod (Rebel), the Free Egyptians Party, the National Salvation Front, the Popular Current Party, the June 30 Coordinating Committee, the Revolutionary Alliance for Building the Nation, the Dignity Party, the Union of Progressive Youth, the Youth Wing in the National Progressive Unionist Party, Kefaya Youth Movement, the Egyptian Democratic Party, the Long Live Egypt Coalition, the Dostour Party, Al-Wafd Party, the Conference Party, the Egyptian National Party, the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions, the Bread and Freedom Group, the Revolution Defence Front, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Egyptian Patriotic Movement, the Egyptian Scientists Council, Egypt's Girl Group, the Egyptian Youth Alliance, the Egyptian People's Will Front, the Nile Pioneers Initiative-Nile University, the General Federation for Egyptians Abroad, the Upper Egypt Development Movement-Assiut, as well as representatives from Sohag, Al-Wadi Al-Gedid, North Sinai, South Sinai, Luxor, Kafr Al-Sheikh and Al-Sharqia governorates.

In spite of the existence of a sweeping majority of ordinary youth supporting the president, as the election results have shown, the targeted section of youth focused on those who are politically active and at its heart those who participated effectively in the revolution against Mubarak's regime and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and constituted a pivotal dimension in the great January 25 Revolution and its overwhelming second wave of 30 June.

A significant division of this peaceful effective section became opposition seat occupants since the issuance of the protest law, in a manifestation of the disintegration that befell the giant 30 June alliance. A number of their colleagues were imprisoned due to this law. Moreover, their early participation enabled them to formulate a standpoint and a vision, even if it was an initial vision towards different political, economic and social issues. It is a matter that deserves attention in the formulation of any future strategy, whatever the differences with these visions are.  

Top priorities: Protest law, elections and participation

During the first roundtable that was held in the building of Al-Ahram Establishment in which around 60 of the best youth in this nation belonging to different political affiliations took part, an enriching dialogue indeed was conducted regarding the protest law, political participation and electoral law, and the youth's political role.

In the second session, which was held in a hall in the Ministry of Youth and Sports, a larger number of youth participated, exceeding 200, in order to guarantee the widest representation possible of political currents and social groups. The minister of youth and sports was present. It was scheduled to discuss economic and social issues, but the youth continued discussing issues of freedoms and parliamentary elections, in an obvious sign that these issues come as top priorities in the current stage.

The third session, which was held in the building of Al-Ahram Establishment, aimed at inviting representatives from different governorates. It concentrated on discussing the visions of youth concerning economic and social issues, in particular achieving economic development, facing unemployment and poverty, achieving social justice, and supporting the youth's economic role through sponsoring small and collective projects.

Through these preliminary sessions, democratic freedoms and especially the protest law dominated a large part of the discussions. The standpoints of participants ranged between abolishing the protest law, freezing it or modifying it in a way that preserves the right to peaceful demonstration as an original constitutional right. A sweeping majority of the youth agreed on considering the standpoint of the National Council for Human Rights as expressing their view on this topic.

They also demanded that the law of detention be modified, and the release of all those imprisoned due to violating the protest law through presidential clemency. Some saw that the state's stance, and specifically the president's, on this law constitutes an important message of the real standpoint of the state towards the youth and issues of freedoms and respecting the constitution. Several participants mentioned that peaceful demonstrations are what overthrew Mubarak's regime that President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi described as tyrannical, and were also what removed the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and deposed president Mohamed Morsi via sweeping popular will.

The youth expressed, in overwhelming majority, feelings of bitterness and anger towards the attack launched on January 25 Revolution and its participants in a way that violates the constitution and opposes what the president declared as his positive stance towards it. Meanwhile, there is no reaction from the state towards this attack and the lies it implies — of banal chamaeleon-like change by some trumpets that pretended to support the January 25 Revolution after removing Mubarak, then turned and began to tarnish the revolution and its youth using the meanest forms of propaganda and lies.

The youth asserted that there is a systematic campaign to incite against the revolution and distort who participated in it, especially the youth. In this context, they demanded that the state and its institutions declare a stance clearly on both revolutions (25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013), pointing out that continuing to be a target for remnants of Mubarak's regime in the media, as well as for symbols of corruption, will lead to widening the gap between the state and the youth.

The treatment of student demonstrations was a reason of anger and estrangement between the state and a section of politically active students using peaceful means. At the same time, they unanimously refused all forms of violence and chaos and considered that anyone who organises violent demonstrations deserves to be deterred according to the regular law, which is very strong in this respect and addresses this phenomenon decisively.

A number of participants also expressed their discontent with setting up justifications for the return of security forces to work inside universities and hindering university clubs with peaceful cultural and political activities if they embrace an opposing approach to the government. This in turn deepened the sense of fear of the recurrence of Mubarak's policy in dealing with universities and students. Some stressed the dangers of banning politics inside universities, which is considered in all democratic states as a sorting laboratory for political and social leaders.

Participant youth saw that there is a big responsibility that lies on the shoulders of the state regarding just representation of youth within state institutions, especially inside the legislative institution and the state's administrative apparatus. They pointed out that hindrances such as favouritism and social discrimination shouldn't be an obstacle in the face of such participation.

Definitely, depriving sons of peasants and workers and those who do not have a university degree from joining the judiciary is a form of social discrimination that drives Egypt back to an era prior to 23 July 1952. It also lets down the rights and hopes of peasants' and workers' sons who voted for the president and were his sword and shield and his large popular base.

Many participants expressed fear of the youth's inability to get appropriate representation proportional to their percentage in the Egyptian nation, whether because of the electoral law or because of their inability to finance election campaigns in the face of the huge financial resources of some political parties, businessmen and big families. In this context, they demanded that the state should guarantee fair representation for youth through modifying the electoral law in a way that ensures this. They also demanded widening the percentage of seats allotted for youth in closed lists (the majority of the suggestions mentioned that the percentage should range between 50-75 percent of the seats allotted to closed lists) provided that there are specific conditions for such closed lists in a way that guarantees wide representation of the youth.

Others suggested that there should be a national closed list covering the whole nation that guarantees fair representation for youth. Some demanded that the state should shoulder a bigger share of the burden in financing youth campaigns to ensure fair competition in the face of political parties, businessmen and big families in the countryside.

In addition to the importance the youth gave to the parliamentary elections issue, some warned of the dangers in discarding local elections. They pointed out that it is imperative to set a date for these elections and prepare the necessary laws that guarantee activating the role of municipalities and widening the participation and representation base within them, and consequently in administering local society.

In addition to their assertion of the importance of appropriate representation of youth within key posts in the state's administrative apparatus, some pointed out that conclusions should not be generalised, on the basis that some posts were given to youth and were not positive cases. They said that there was a deliberate policy to make the youth's experience within the state's administrative apparatus fail.

In the three sessions, the participant youth stressed the importance of widening the role of the state in shaping and developing the awareness of the youth. They emphasised that the state should activate its role through the youth and culture ministries in the form of organising training and education camps and upgrading the role of these two ministries concerning these activities and developing a real national role for national institutions in this respect.

Participant youth expressed their extreme fear of the return of symbols and remnants of Mubarak's regime once again to political life in general, and the legislative body in particular. In this context, some demanded that a law should be issued to exclude those who corrupted political life, and the defunct National Democratic Party's symbols who rigged election results, in order that fresh faces enter parliament and guarantee a new parliamentary elite.

The youth suggested establishing a body to monitor the government's performance in which different youth currents and movements are represented under the direct supervision of the president, a body that should be provided with all necessary credentials and guarantees to ensure it performs its duty effectively in the field of monitoring public funds, to prevent and combat corruption —considered the worst disasters of Mubarak's era.

Participants suggested establishing a National Council for Youth similar to the National Council for Women to enable them to organise their efforts and shape their public political and social role and to express their interests and points of view in the best way possible concerning different legislation and policies.

Youth demanded that Al-Ahram Establishment organise courses for youth applying for candidacy in the next elections, which Al-Ahram actually does through Al-Ahram Regional Institute — the most significant national training institution in this respect.

Youth and development, employment and combating corruption  

Regarding economic and social issues, the youth focused on tightening the monitoring of public funds, hiring the unemployed, sponsoring and supporting small and collective projects as a mechanism for creating jobs and combating poverty, developing technical education, expansion in developmental projects in governorates, benefitting from the experience of financing the Suez Canal Project in financing other national projects relying on the people instead of submitting to the extortion of some businessmen who are the symbols of Mubarak's era.

They also focused on the relationship between the peasant and the state, which they pointed out should perform an active role in protecting the rights and interests of peasants. Some participants mentioned the violation of peasants' rights through high production input prices and low crop and output prices absent governmental interference. They mentioned that merchants gain the larger yield from the agricultural effort and demanded the improvement of the economic and social situations of peasants. They also demanded a real programme of housing for the youth, including the poor and youth of the governorates.

They also requested that stronger measures be taken regarding the recovery of stolen funds. Participants agreed there is weakness or absence of measures undertaken in this respect.

They asserted the importance of restoring state rights from corrupt figures inside Egypt, whether in the form of funds or lands that were allocated in an illegal way, or sold for less than their real worth for industrial, touristic or agricultural projects, or which were acquired without being actually used. In this context, participants suggested modifying relevant laws in a way that ensures the right to appeal against public contracts without having to be a main party, as a way of monitoring contracts and conduct in the allocation of public funds.  

They also demanded that the taxation system be reviewed in a way that achieves more justice in distributing social and developmental burdens and responsibilities among different segments and groups. They recommended that the exemption limit be raised to include the poor, raising tax rates on upper income segments and that taxes encompass capital gains and depleted wealth. But they stressed vehemently that the above demands should be accompanied with improving public services, including health, education and transport services, keeping up security along with respecting human rights, and upgrading national infrastructure so that taxpayers feel there is a real yield for what they have paid.

They also underlined the necessity of reviewing the subsidies policy oriented to the agriculture sector in a way that ensures that it would be directed to strategic crops, not to aromatic crops the yeilds of which eventually go into the pockets of businessmen while excluding small farmers. This is in addition to condemning overlooking the strategic importance of crops related to food security, which constitute the bulk of Egyptian agricultural imports. 

Participants, especially those representing peasants and the agricultural sector, called for restricting subsidies directed to fertilisers to small agricultural lands (up to three feddans on old lands, and 20 feddans in newly reclaimed lands).

Those representing peasants insisted on the importance of keeping a direct relationship between the state and peasants, without any mediators whatsoever, in a way that ensures that the state provides them with fair prices for inputs and fair prices for their produce. They mentioned the importance of real political representation for peasants and stopping the distorted representation that Mubarak's regime used to employ, relying on those who do not really hold the description of peasant. This led to widening the gap between peasants and the state in the light of their distorted representation. They demanded fair distribution of irrigation, whether between governorates and inside every governorate.

Youth demanded an expansion in vertical housing in the Delta governorates in a way that contributes to addressing housing problems in these governorates without widespread encroachment on agricultural lands, as was the case in the last four decades, building new integrated cities in Upper Egypt governorates, opening the way for young people to get out of the Nile Valley and Delta in integrated projects set up on new lands and areas and activating their role in economic efforts in these cities through state sponsorship and support.

In a related integrated context, they called for the state to direct its attention to small projects, and the localisation of productive projects in the governorates according to every governorate's distinctive advantages (geographic location, crops, natural resources and touristic potentialities).

Participants pointed out the importance of establishing a national institution with branches in governorates that could sponsor small projects, providing soft loans and guidance on choosing activities, and marketing such projects internally and externally. They underlined the importance of linking small projects with larger ones in a way that ensures minimum demand on small projects and a maximum level of continuous operation.

Youth confirmed the importance of technical education on different levels, in a way that guarantees activating the role of this sector in production through linking it directly with factories or production sectors and different services in order to provide graduates with real job opportunities. They pointed to society's decline in appreciation for technical education. Participants stressed the importance of expanding technical training and qualification centres, so that every governorate has at least one integrated centre.

They also underlined the importance of incorporating the informal economy into the formal sector with the aim of benefitting from the services of the formal sector and upgrading its activities and providing services, on the one hand, and widening and developing taxation resources to raise state revenues and reduce the general budget deficit on the other.

These were the results of discussions with politically active youth and representatives of different governorates and groups. In fact, it expresses a high level of maturity and a demand on the state and the president, who was elected with a large majority, to put such proposals into consideration. These ideas belong to the project of building a new Egypt, awaiting only a direct meeting between the president and his sons in a mood of frankness and participation, in order to weave again the giant 30 June alliance and move towards a future that does not allow the return of corruption, tyranny and social injustice.

The writer is chairman of the board of Al-Ahram Establishment.

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