Diplomatic briefs

17-03-2014 12:04 PM

Mary Fikry - Maged Samir - Antoun Milad

Musical Bridge back in Cairo
The annual Egyptian-Finnish Musical Bridge has gathered musical maestros and young talents who last week brilliantly performed famous opera arias and a chamber music concert at the Cairo Opera House and the Arab Music Institute. The oncerts were free of charge for the public.

The Musical Bridge also included workshops and training for young Egyptian musicians and singers. The instructors were opera director Eija Tolpo, professor Mark Gothóni, cellist Yuko Miyagawa, and voice trainer Conrad Garno.
The Musical Bridge is the product of cooperation between the Finnish pianist and conductor Ralp Gothóni and the Cairo Opera House, and has been held annually since 2007. The aim is that the event would work as a cultural bridge between Finland and Egypt, and to train promising Egyptian musicians and singers. Some of those young talents will be invited to perform at Finnish music festivals, such as the Savonlinna Opera Festival.
“One Woman” song
On Saturday 8 March 2014, UN Women hosted an event at the Cairo Opera House to celebrate 2014 International Women##s Day and the opening of its Arab States and North Africa regional office. The event brought together leaders from the League of Arab States (LAS), the Egyptian Government, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),gender advocates, policymakers, donors, civil society organizations, UN Women partners and media.e.3.jpg
As part of this commemoration, UN Women Arab States office unveiled to the public the Arabic version of the UN Women One Woman song [launched in English on 8 March 2013]. Arab singers from all over the Arab region came to Cairo to perform the song live and stress its underlying message that “Arab women are united wherever they are, and men will be there to support women’s aspirations”. 
Under the theme “Innovation for change: to shine together one day” the event celebrated the courage and determination of Arab women who played an extraordinary role in the Arab Spring. It was also an opportunity to reflect on progress made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in the region.
The event called on leaders to further support the empowerment of women and girls in the Arab world. Arab women still face marginalisation in most Arab countries, they are under-represented in politics, victims of violence, and  are one of the most affected groups during conflicts, stressed Sameera Al-Tuwaijri, UN Women Regional Director for Arab States.
The celebration also included the announcement of the Cairo Declaration, the outcome document of the high-level meeting convened by UN Women in February in cooperation with the LAS, UN Women and the Economic and Social Commission (ESCWA)—a strong statement of support for women and girls in the post-2015 development agenda.  
The documentary The Box, which depicts the journey of three female candidates to the Egyptian parliament in 2011, was screened.
New Family Beginnings
e.4.jpgIn cooperation with both the Egyptian Cultural Development Fund and the Culture Ministry’sFine Art Sector, the Japan Foundation Cairo Office recently held in Cairo “The Japanese Film Festival 2013: New Family Beginnings”.
The festival had been postponed sinceAugust 2013, owing to the precarious security situation. security conditions back then. For the  first time in Cairo, a live performance of Ninja Martial Arts was presented on the opening night. 
Global Employment Trends, 2014
The recently launched International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) annual report on “Global Employment Trends 2014” gives a grim picture of the labour markets in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.e.5.jpg
The report says unemployment in the MENA remains the highest in the world and at least two percentage points above rates observed in the developed economies and the European Union.
It also says that the region has the world’s highest unemployment rates among young people and very weak female participation in the labour force. According to the report, youth unemployment in MENA countries reached more than 29 per cent in North Africa in 2013 and 25 per cent in Egypt.
“We expect that unemployment will continue to rise in the region in general and in North Africa in particular, especially among the youth,” said Youssef Qaryouti, ILO’s director of the organisation’s sub-regional office for North Africa in a recent press conference launching the report in Cairo.
Qaryouti said that the poor quality of Egypt’s vocational and academic education was one of the reasons contributing to the increase in youth unemployment and that the lack of skilled labour in the country had attracted types of investments that did not create new jobs or contribute to the economy.  
The report says that Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) in the region have not had a significant impact on employment, and were directed to only a few sectors, such as construction, telecommunications and mining, while the manufacturing and agriculture sectors have been neglected.. 
Qaryouti said that the employment conditions in many of the Arab States lacked fairness, including fair salaries, an appropriate social security system and respect for international labour laws. “The lack of these components prompts the youth to shun the formal sector and work in the informal one instead. This explains the prevailing phenomenon of street vendors and kiosks in Egypt.”
Most of the ongoing labour strikes in the country are seeing workers demanding fair salaries and the implementation of the minimum wage of EGP1,200 per month, which was set by the government for public-sector employees and has gone into effect starting this year.
The government is currently working on amending the labour law in order to fix its shortcomings. No details of the amendments have been announced, but minister of manpower and immigration Kamal Abu Aita said last week that the amendments would target improving job safety in the private sector and preventing arbitrary firings.
In order to beat unemployment, Qaryouti said that states in the region should follow job-friendly macroeconomic policies and policy-makers should take these into account. He said that although Egypt had been achieving a growth rate of six or seven per cent before the 25 January Revolution, unemployment and poverty rates had been inching up. “This means that the policies followed were not job-friendly,” he noted.
Qaryouti said that a recent poll in Egypt had shown that the majority of the unemployed in the country held Bachelors degrees, adding that unemployment among females was at least double that among males. He added that few young people started their own businesses in Egypt, due to the lack of incentive policies and other problems such as access to finance. Egypt’s unemployment rate, he said, for the fourth quarter of 2013 stood at 13.4 per cent of the country’s 27.3 million work force, remaining unchanged from the previous quarter.
USD 100 million from Italy for education and agriculture
A recent meeting between Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi and the Italian ambassador to Cairo Maurizio Massari saw the two officials explore possibilities for future cooperation. They discussed the projects that would be carried out within the framework of Italian debts swap programme signed in 2012 at a value of USD100 million. The sum would be used in financing developmental projects of high priority such as food security, education, higher education, agriculture, civil society, environment and protecting culture heritage.
Chatting in Upper Egypt
The success of the Dardasha Masriya (Egyptian Chats) programme, an initiative launched by a youth group in collaboration with the swedish Institute in Alexandria which took off in Alexandria then moved on south to Beni-Sweif, 100km south of Cairo, has inspired its founders to take it further South to Qena, some 500km south of Cairo. The programme holds seminars and meetings to discuss the aspirations of the youth, based on common sharede.6.jpg values, through constructive dialogue between all stakeholders in society. The dialogue has emphasised active citizenship and the role of each and every individual to help their community in the most effective way. In Qena, the participants were engaged and committed in the discussions, with a slight predominance of young women, unlike previous meetings where the male participants were the majority. 
The following stop for the Dardasha was the southernmost Egyptian city of Aswan where participants aged 18 to 35 provided a diversity of ideas and experiences. The issue of decentralisation and the constructive role of social media through social marketing techniques was broached. 
Alexandria heritage under threat
The consuls of the United Kingdom, France and Greece have expressed strong concerns over the threat posed to Alexandria’s architectural heritage and offered their support for local efforts to conserve and protect it. 
e.7.jpgA joint statement said that: “Alexandria is a city of unique historical background. Its great history lies in every corner and in every step of its ancient streets and its unique identity has been eternally depicted on its historical buildings. Buildings of different styles and architectural trends reflecting and reminding of the true multi-cultural spirit that has always prevailed in this city bringing together people of different nationalities, languages, religions. Buildings of unparalleled beauty and character that gave to Alexandria international fame and have always attracted great numbers of visitors.
“These architectural treasures deserve to be kept and protected. Not only as a sign of respect for the past but, primarily, as a legacy for the future and the coming generations. Alexandria’s rich cultural heritage has the potential to be an important driver of much-needed economic growth and urban regeneration. It should be a source of pride, not conflict, in the local community.
“In this framework, we called on HE the Governor of Alexandria, Major General Tariq Mahdi, on 12 February to express our support for the aspirations of the people of Alexandria to protect their cultural heritage. We commended the efforts of the Governor and all those involved in trying to prevent the demolition of historic buildings, especially – but not exclusively – those which were originally listed as protected cultural heritage of the city. We also discussed possible areas of future co-operation, including ways in which the international community can help Alexandrians to protect their beautiful city.
Phasing out methyl bromide
With eight months remaining to meet one of the most challenging targets set by the Montreal Protocol (MP) on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, developing nations are pushing ahead on phasing out methyl bromide (MB), which has been used as a fumigant to control pests in agriculture. With assistance from the Multilateral Fund (MLF) for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, experts and officials have been working during the last two decades to promote sustainable and safe alternatives to one of the world’s top five most widely used pesticides. The phasing-out of controlled uses of methyl bromide is being achieved through a consistent and successful global effort under the Montreal Protocol, leading to nearly 95% of the global baseline of 71,950 metric tonnes been replaced alternatives by the end of 2012.  
From West Asia, some Gulf countries have funded their own projects to bring about the phase-out, while farmers, exporters associations and private enterprises in Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Morocco and Syria have financed experiments to adapt alternatives in concert with their national methyl bromide phase out plans funded by the MLF. Such activities will facilitate complete and sustainable phase out of all controlled applications within agreed MP schedules. 
To further assess progress made so far and ensure compliance with the total phase out of methyl bromide by 1 January 2015, the Compliance Assistance Programme (CAP) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), recently brought together 22 countries and other regional and international specialized organisations in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
The meeting, held in collaboration with the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) of Egypt defined actions and measures that need to be taken to overcome policy, technical and economic barriers that may hinder the phase out of the Ozone Depleting Substance (ODS).
Studies show it will be less expensive to eliminate methyl bromide and find alternatives than to finance the medical costs associated with the increase in skin cancer cases caused by increased exposure to UV rays. The pesticide can cause a range of health effects in humans, including neurological symptoms such as headaches, nausea and muscle tremors.
Creative Youth Festival
Earlier this month the French Cultural Centre in Cairo hosted the Creative Youth Festival e.8.gifJeunes Createurs which opened with the play I Am Dead Now. The play was written by Hani Afifi and Bassem Sharaf and directed by Afifi. It has been the recipient of several awards, including best play, best director and best actor at the third edition of the Jeunes Createurs festival in 2005, and the Special Jury Prize at the National Festival for Egyptian theatre in 2006. 
The Jury comprised the French director Christophe Rouxel as chairman and director Hisham Gomaa and actor Amr Saad as members. The winners have received an invitation to attend the Festival d’Avignon at the expense of the French Institute in Egypt. 
Humanitarian Effectiveness
The League of Arab States has recently held in Cairo a recent workshop on “Advancing Humanitarian Effectiveness in the Arab Region: challenges and ways forward.” Talking at the opening, deputy secretary-general of the Arab League Fayqa Said al-Saleh pointed oute.9.jpg that the Arab region is the scene of numerous natural and man-made disasters; Arab States have been dealing with, among others, challenges of population growth, rapid urbanisation and water scarcity, often in the context of weak economies. At the moment, he said, the region is sadly experiencing a significant increase in humanitarian needs. “More than half the population of Yemen suffers from food insecurity and over 3 million people in Somalia require humanitarian assistance; in Sudan the number is almost double; in the Sahel region millions continue suffer from food insecurity, malnutrition, violent conflict, epidemics and natural disasters; and the conflict in Syria has resulted in the internal displacement of 6.5 million persons while some 2.4 millions have fled to neighboring countries or North Africa.” With the scale and complexity of these crises presenting complex challenges for humanitarian workers, the Arab League workshop could not have been more timely.
Egyptian-European Film Festival
The recently-held second Luxor Egyptian and European Festival has focused on New (post-reunification) German Cinema; eight films were shown including Run Lola, Run (1998); The Lives of Others (2004); and Goodbye Lenin (2003). The festival boasted a diverse line-up of 62 films from 20 different countries, including Egypt which was represented by Amr Salama’s e.10.jpgLa Moakhza (Excuse My French).
Several Egyptian films shot digitally will also be screened, since it is the festival’s policy to support independent cinema and highlight its significance. Such films included Yusry Nasrallah’s Al Madina (The City), 1999; Mohamed Khan’s Klephty, (2004); and Ahmed Abdallah’s Farsh w Ghata (Rags and Tatters), 2013.
Fataat al-Masnaa (Factory Girl), directed by veteran Egyptian director Mohamed Khan, made its national debut at the festival.
The second edition of the Luxor festival was organised by the Nun Foundation for Culture and Art; and sponsored by the Ministry of Youth, the Ministry of Tourism, Luxor Governorate and the European Commission in Cairo. It featured, besides the screened films, lectures and seminars. The legendary Egyptian actor Nour al-Sherif was among the festival guests.
World Hindi Day 
The Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC), Embassy of India, Cairo celebrated the Vishwa Hindi Diwas or World Hindi Day on 10 January 2014. Hindi, the official language of the Republic of India, is spoken by a majority of Indians and is considered the third moste.11.jpg widely spoken language in the world, spoken wherever people of Indian origin have settled down. Further, with the increasing popularity of Indian, particularly Hindi films, made Hindi a familiar language to many non-Indians.
Since 2006, to propagate the use of Hindi abroad, the World Hindi Day has been celebrated by Indian Embassies the world over. The Cairo programme included speeches in Hindi, recitation of Hindi poetry, recounting of experiences, jokes as well as a rendering of Hindi songs and Indian dance by Indians and Egyptians. The programme was organised with the active support of the Egypt-India Friendship Association and members of the Indian community in Egypt
EGP28 million from Sweden for women rights
The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) will contribute 27 million Swedish Kronor—the equivalent of EGP28 million, USD million—in support of a mobilisation for women’s rights in Egypt. The initiative aims to strengthen the participation of women in politics and business, and to reduce genital mutilation and sexual harassment. The e.12.jpggoal is also that the project would contribute to create 500,000 new jobs for Egyptian women, the Swedish embassy in Egypt said.
The embassy said that a broad spectrum of civil society organisations, government agencies and ministries are involved in the mobilisation, run by various UN agencies including the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UN Women and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The programme will target issues on the national level, such as women’s political participation, the role of women in the judiciary system and attitudes in the society at large. It will also contribute with concrete support at the individual level, including among others capacity-building for women entrepreneurs, and helping more women get jobs. The job creation will be implemented through “Cash for Work” programmes in cooperation with the Social Fund for Development.
The initiative is supposed to be implemented during the years 2014 – 2017.
Statistics reveal that political instability and the difficult economic situation in Egypt have made Egyptian women more vulnerable. Egypt occupies the 77th place of 80 countries in the gender equality index Gender Empowerment Measure. Approximately 74 per cent of girls aged 15-17 years have been exposed to genital mutilation, close to 100 percent have been subjected to sexual harassment and 80 percent do not feel safe on the streets and on public transportation.
Horizon 2020
The European Commission organised a regional conference, “Meeting EuroMed Common Challenges”, on Sunday to launch Horizon 2020, the largest collaborative research programme in the world, with an overall budget of 80 million Euros. The programme is set to be implemented in the period from 2014 to 2020.e.1.jpg
The opening session of the conference was led by Egyptian Minister of Scientific Research Ramzy George, Head of European Union Delegation to Egypt Ambassador James Moran, and Elizabeth Lipiatou, Head of the unit responsible for the European Neighbourhood, Africa and Gulf countries at the Directorate General of the European Commission.
The conference was also attended by around 400 policy makers, researchers, representatives from academia, industry and research institutes, technology transfer centres, incubators and technology platforms.
Ambassador Moran said: “Horizon 2020 offers many opportunities for addressing EuroMed common societal challenges through cooperation in research and innovation.” He said the programme will support scientists and researchers from courtiers across the two shores of the Mediterranean to work together and enable policymakers, development organisations, research institutions and the private sector to share knowledge and explore the gaps between research and innovation in order to address societal challenges in the Euro-Med region.
WATANI International
17 March 2014
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