By Brian Whitaker
Having declared that 2016 is the “Year of Egyptian Youth”, President Sisi inaugurated a conference intended – in Sisi’s words – to “have a dialogue and raise hope” among the young. But hope, along with sugar in Egypt, is currently in short supply.
At the opening session of the conference, Sisi poured cold water on hopes for a much-needed overhaul of Egypt’s education system, saying the country cannot afford it. “The country’s resources are scarce … and the challenges are huge,” he said. “Would Egyptians accept having all available cash be put in (education) and have other issues wait?”
A report by Al-Ahram continues: “In response to questions posed by attendees, who suggested Egypt adopt measures that have been successful in other countries, El-Sisi urged the youth to take into consideration the country’s flagging economic situation before proposing a solution, and to think of how much a proposed initiative would cost and how it can be funded.”
The government-organised National Youth Conference, held over three days in Sharm el-Sheikh, is intended to become an annual event. Some 3,000 young Egyptians from universities and political parties are said to be attending and according to one estimate the overall cost of the event will be $3.6 million. Just a few days before the conference began, the annual Global Youth Development Index ranked Egypt 138th out of 183 countries.
If the conference has so far failed to arouse much hope it has at least triggered some dialogue, though probably not to sort that Sisi wanted.
An Arabic hashtag #الشباب_فين (Where are the youth?) topped the trending list on Twitter as social media users pointed out that the 3,000 gathered in Sharm el-Sheikh are dwarfed by a much larger “gathering of youth” in Egyptian jails.
Several political parties – the Egyptian Democratic Party, the Socialist People’s Alliance, the Egyptian Popular Current, al-Karama and al-Dostour – announced a boycott of the conference while others, including al-Tagammu, al-Wafd, Free Egyptians, al-Mu’tamar and al-Tahrir said they would attend.
The plainclothes police raided the offices of al-Tareeq, a news website owned by Fareed Zahran who is also head of the Egyptian Democratic Party. The raid came shortly after Zahran issued a statement saying his party would boycott the youth conference, though it’s unclear if this was what prompted the police to carry out a search. According to Egypt Daily News, police told one of the website’s journalists that it was a “normal procedure” ahead of demonstrations expected on November 11.