Sensing the restlessness and frustration that prevail among Egypt’s young people, and realising the country’s future hinges on its young population, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has declared 2016 the year of youth. The aim is to empower Egypt’s young people. The State has especially taken serious steps along that path; President Sisi’s announcement coincided with the inauguration of the Knowledge Bank, an online trove of knowledge made available free of charge to Egyptians through agreements with the world’s leading sites such as Thomson Reuters and National Geographic. [http://en.wataninet.com/features/education/egypts-knowledge-bank/15134/ ]
President Sisi said the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) would conduct a comprehensive programme to support and develop small and medium projects for young people by directing the banking sector to allocate not less than 20 per cent of the total loans during the coming four years for such businesses. The programme would thus make available some EGP200 billion to fund an average of 350,000 companies that will accordingly provide four million job opportunities for young people. The interest rate for loans provided to micro enterprises would not exceed five per cent annually.
With Egypt suffering from chronic housing shortage, President Sisi added that the Housing Ministry would complete 145,000 housing apartments during 2016 for young people, at a cost of EGP20 billion.
He also said that the One Million Feddans reclamation project would allocate an adequate percentage of land for ownership by young Egyptians.
The President also promised a programme to reform education with a specialised national committee charged with reviewing the curriculum for all ages over the next three months. This committee will study the latest international standards including the study of ethics, and will consider changes. The President made other promises related to sports such as sporting tournaments for schools and universities, and the upgrading of some 6,700 youth centres nationwide.
Experts see the President’s promises as a strong push for the young people of Egypt to achieve their aspirations and ambitions. They believe that his declaration of 2016 the year of the young is strong proof of his awareness that young Egyptians need to know that their country cares for and supports them. It also demonstrates the President’s intention to involve young Egyptians in public work and the economy and create better opportunities for them.
Need for action
Some of the people President Sisi aims to help have, however, criticised his announcements. Engineering student Mina Bisali says there is no point in creating a year for young people when not one has been appointed to a leading position. He says the young are currently in a neutral position as they are neither marginalised nor effective. They are only used by the State when talking about achievements, while in reality, he says, nothing happens.
Theresa Shenouda, a journalist, says several things need to be achieved before 2016 can really be seen as the year for the young. Up to now there have been no projects related to young people’s interests, and they are not empowered in any way either in public life or the work field.
Josephine Samir, a young working woman, says that words are fine but the current situation is not so easy. “What did the State do to increase young people awareness?” she asks. “What are the conditions for funding? What are the proposed projects or facilities? I hope the State will work on increasing awareness among young people and facilitate their getting loans to make their projects feasible and easier.”
Amira Wahba, a teacher, says the State should work hard to encourage the young and indeed the entire society develop, and it should start with education and culture, linking education with market trends. It also should focus more on improving technical education and scientific research, and care more to foster young people’s creativity and talents. “Egypt is suffering because its young people don’t work and its government doesn’t think,” she says.
Looking for an easy way
A large portion of Egyptians, including not a few young men and women, do not agree with the pessimistic view expressed by many young, and see their criticism as petty excuses.
“What do they mean when they say they have not been appointed to top positions?” says Mervat Samy, a journalist in her forties. “Where and when have persons without sufficient experience been allowed to hold top positions in which they shoulder serious responsibility and take decisions that affect people’s lives? Young people do not realise that top positions carry huge obligations and require wisdom and vision. They only see the benefits that come with top positions, and conveniently disregard the duties.
“Besides,” Ms Samy says, “why do our young people forget that the under-40s have won 80 seats in the current parliament, owing to affirmative action for the empowerment of youth? Also that cabinet ministers have been required to appoint young assistants, but not all ministers have done that yet. Anyhow, I wish the young would see that it takes strong will and hard work to grow into successful, responsible adults capable of shouldering responsibility. Only then will the top positions automatically come. But young men and women seem to want it all handed to them on a silver platter. I don’t know if they ever wonder whether or not they would be up to the responsibility if that happens.”
Everyone is responsible
Mukhtar al-Sharif, Professor of Economics at Mansoura University, says the problem facing the nation is that the productive work culture is not rooted in young people; they still wait for the easy government job where their contracts are automatically renewed. All the facilities related to microenterprises and loans at 5 per cent interest require an effort on the part of the young. He blames the problem on the young people themselves who do not want to exert effort but want to get everything ‘ready made’. Managing a project, even a small one, needs strong will, effort and some experience or at least training. But many young people are not interested in all this, Dr Sharif says.
“Young Egyptians need to learn from the example of the Syrians who came to Egypt fleeing their war-torn country. They did not wait for any official help; rather, they took advantage of the welcoming climate in Egypt and the fact that they are not labelled refugees and, with a will of steel, started small businesses. We can see them as we go: trading in a variety of items, making and selling the world famous Syrian confectionary, and altogether behaving in a manner that has earned them the respect of Egyptians.
“When President Sisi said 2016 would be the year of the young, or in other words that there would be focus on their problems and attempts to solve them, this did not mean finding all the answers and solving all the problems in one year. Many solutions are directly related to the much bigger picture in Egypt such as investment and security, and many others depend on the young themselves.
“Simply put, everyone must share in the responsibility,” Dr Sharif says.
10 February 2016