Egypt’s first National Youth Conference began on Tuesday by praising the government’s performance in serving Egypt’s youth, meanwhile opposition activists and politicians launched an online campaign to report on detained young people in prison.
In his opening speech on the first day of the conference, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced that the National Youth Conference will be held annually in order to bolster the connection between the state and its youth.
The three-day conference, which is entitled ”Create… Go Ahead”, is taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh in attendance of Al-Sisi, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, and several other prominent state figures. Media figures, politicians, members of parliament, members of political parties, and about 3,000 young people are also present for the conference, according to state media.
The opposition’s online campaign includes political party members, former detainees, activists, and youth who previously announced that they are boycotting the conference. This campaign decided to focus the three days of the conference on narrating stories of detained youth in prison who are contending with human rights violations and medical negligence, as well as circulating stories of enforced disappearance cases across social media platforms.
The state-sponsored conference began with four young men and women explaining the goals and programmes of the event. They also detailed a number of achievements by the state throughout 2016, which Al-Sisi dubbed the year for the youth.
One of the young men said that their dreams only started to be realised when the president declared 2016 as the year of the youth back in January. Some short video clips were played to show the national projects arranged by the state to increase youth qualifications and offer more employment.
On the sidelines of the conference, MP Khaled Youssef said in televised interview that the conference discussions will focus on certain topics, including youth participation in provincial elections and in parliament, and ways to increase their involvement in political parties.
Youssef said that conference will present workshops on ways to help young people maintain and strengthen their national identities, and ways to combat agendas attempting to distort their affiliation to their country. He also added that there will be discussions on the role of art in serving communities.
The MP called on young people from all different backgrounds to participate in the conference, explaining that their presence is important in order to address their views, especially those from opposition groups, as their demands will never be met if they do not attend and speak up.
He commented on the opposition’s stance to boycott the conference, saying that he hopes to not see any young people detained due to the Protest Law, which is unconstitutional in accordance to the court ruling. He added that all young people attending the conference should call on the president to release all detainees arrested on charges that contract freedom of expression or opinion and those arrested for non-violent crimes.
The first session of the conference was on education issues in Egypt, represented by the minister of education, professors, and heads of universities and schools. The representatives addressed different educational issues and suggested advanced solutions.
The second session assessed the youth’s role in parliament, highlighting that 2015 included a large number of young people for the first time in decades. The session included discussions on advancing youth participation in parliament.
A number of young MPs narrated their experiences and provided various suggestions, urging that the youth demographics’ awareness of politics should be boosted for beneficial and effective participation.
Throughout both sessions, the president engaged in the discussions by explaining what the state can do to implement these suggestions.
During the conference, the president will honour the annual Creativity Award for Youth, a youth-oriented annual award for young people excelling in scientific and cultural fields.
The Socialist People’s Alliance party (SPAP), the Egyptian Popular Current party (EPCP), and Al-Karama and Al-Dostour parties announced last week that they were boycotting the conference, along with 150 young people who signed a petition to confirm this. Meanwhile, other parties inducing Al-Tagammu, Al-Wafad, and the Free Egyptians parties, announced their attendance.
In early June, the head of Assiut and Helwan universities student unions rejected an invitation from the Ministry of Higher Education to attend the first annual Egyptian Family Iftar celebration hosted by Al-Sisi and attended by prominent political and public figures.
Both union heads believed that their presence would neither benefit the students they represent, nor lead to an open conversation regarding conditions inside government universities.