In response to long-awaited demands to empower young people, Ashraf Rashad, 35, appeared on the political scene and within a short period, he became the head of the Nation’s Future Party that currently leads the political life on the ground.
Rashad leads the largest bloc in the Egyptian parliament and heads the parliamentary youth and sports committee. Daily News Egypt interviewed the young politician to learn about his party’s activities and his vision of sports in Egypt.
The transcript below was lightly edited for clarity
How did you see the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON)?
I’m really speechless to describe how successful the AFCON opening ceremony was and how proud I am of the organising committee under the instructions of the political leadership. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s attendance of the ceremony sent an assuring message to the world that Egypt has restored its security and is at a leading position in the continent.
What are the expected gains of this tournament?
The first gain is the emphasis on Egypt’s ability to organise such an important continental tournament, political and security stability, and the development achieved in Egypt in terms of sporting activities. This will reassure foreign investors to work in Egypt as the country has promising investment opportunities.
AFCON would also revive tourism, with thousands of people from 24 countries visiting Egypt. This necessitates the need for tourist promotion during the matches and events of the tournament.
The return of fans to stadiums is one of the most important gains of the tournament as it will be a step towards the return of fans to local league matches starting from the next season.
How did you follow up the AFCON preparations?
The youth and sports parliamentary committee followed the preparations for the tournament by holding intensive meetings with all concerned parties, including the Egyptian Football Association, the minister of sports, and other parties.
We have been in constant contact with the government to follow up the progress of development and innovation in stadiums and other facilities. We also conducted several inspection tours in cooperation with the African affairs and tourism affairs committees in the parliament to all hosting stadiums in Cairo, Suez, Ismailia, and Alexandria.
I can say that Egypt managed to accomplish a huge development and innovation works with a record time. It’s a real miracle to prepare such high-quality sports infrastructure in a way that impressed all the visitors. The development of stadiums was a giant national project that was no less important than other projects being carried out throughout the country.
The state now has a new challenge, which is to preserve what has been achieved and continue development. This is especially because sports can encourage tourism and enhance national income.
Will the sports committee assess AFCON?
The committee is already monitoring all the events of the championship to prepare its report that would be presented to the ministry of youth and sports to avoid any downsides in future events. So far, everything is going so well.
Can Egypt bid to host the FIFA World Cup soon?
What has been achieved so far in AFCON can be a step towards improving Egypt’s image in world football and present it as a possible destination of major tournaments. I believe we can host any major sports event, and Egypt will likely bid to host the World Cup soon.
What is the committee’s vision for youth centres?
The committee in cooperation with the Youth and Sports Minister, Ashraf Sobhi, conducted many reforms regarding the youth centres nationwide. We opened many new centres and renovated others. We managed to provide many youth centres with their necessary needs of sports equipment. Now, we have a huge plan to develop all youth centres across the country by 2020.
Can Tazkarti be used in booking tickets for the Egyptian Premier League?
The Tazkarti app is a professional online reservation system that contributes to ensuring safety and security in stadiums. It is also an important mechanism that enables the security agencies to identify rioters. I think it may be used in future tournaments and the local league.
The most important feature of Tazkarti is that it has largely eliminated the informal market and helped in organizing the entry and exit of spectators in the stadiums thanks to the Fan ID system.
The budget of the National Academy for Youth Training and Rehabilitation is EGP 324m, do you think it’s enough to do its job?
The academy is a platform for development and education. It is equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to prepare distinguished cadres capable of leading the development process and ensuring full integration of the region into the global economy. Therefore, it is a giant national project aimed at building human resources, so we will give it all the necessary support morally and financially.
As for the budget, it is the best we can get and it matches the vision of the academy which announced its approval of the allocated fund.
Does the party plan to merge with other parties or entities?
The situation is open to all possibilities and we do not mind merging with any party provided that its ideas match ours. The Nation’s Future is a party for everyone who knows and appreciates the value of his homeland. Meanwhile, the idea of merging with any entity or political alliance is not an option now since our party is very stable.
Have you started planning for the upcoming parliamentary election?
Any political entity must be prepared to for running elections at any time. Hence, the Nation’s Party, with all its powerful and distinguished assets, is ready for any elections. As for the possibility of forming an electoral alliance or not, and whether running for individual or list member seats, it is still too early to tell.
However, our party is drafting a law to present it to the parliament soon through our parliamentary bloc, headed by MP Atef Nasser, to adopt a list system only in coming elections.
How do you see the reports saying your party backs the state?
It’s an honour to any party to back the state. However, our party has criticised the government in different occasions and our representatives in the parliament have summoned several ministers over controversial issues.
Our role is to support the Egyptian state and our goal is to preserve the nation’s interest.
How do you assess the economic performance of the government so far?
It is no secret that the state has faced many challenges, yet there has been a state of stability and unprecedented economic improvement over the recent years due to the economic reform programme. Without this programme, Egypt would not have got through all these difficult stages.
What are the most positive aspects of the new budget that you agreed to?
We have approved the new budget because we have witnessed many pros in it, including lower expenditure compared to the estimated GDP, and higher revenues to expenditure ratio compared to previous budgets, as it was estimated at 57.3%, compared to 57.2%, 53.6%, 50% in the fiscal years (FY) 2019, 2018, and 2017, respectively.
There is also a decrease in the fiscal deficit in FY 2020 estimated at 25.6% compared to previous years, in addition to a decrease in the fiscal deficit to revenues ratio to about 35.6% compared to previous years, leading to a lower total deficit 7.2%.
Do you have any comments on the new budget?
We have demanded the government to provide a clear mechanism in dealing with outstanding debt which reached EGP 380bn on 30 June 2019, in addition to imposing more governance on the aspects of expenditure and others, in addition to steps and means to strengthen the role of supreme funds to ease the burden on the public treasury.
We have also demanded the government to put forward solutions for the losses sustained by state-run companies and the public enterprises sector so that we can make the most of them.
Have you faced any criticism of your support campaign of the constitutional amendments?
No, we have not faced any criticism because it was our duty towards the state and society to launch this campaign across the country to raise awareness of the importance of these constitutional amendments.
Does the party support the recent calls for boycotting Turkish products?
I believe that the Arab Quartet’s [Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain] limiting of political relations with Erdogan’s regime is enough and it has achieved many of its goals.