“Long live Egypt, long live humanity, long live the youth of the world!” The cheer, proclaimed by a beaming President Sisi and echoed by an enthusiastic young audience, concluded the fourth edition of the World Youth Forum (WYF) which was held at the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh from 10 to 13 January 2022.
This year’s WYF ran on the theme “Back Together”, in allusion to the annual event having been interrupted in 2021 owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Over four days buzzing with activity, participants from 196 countries concluded 95 hours of debates, resolutions and recommendations throughout 31 sessions and workshops, focusing largely on post-COVID impacts.
This edition of WYF launched a virtual platform and an updated version of the forum’s mobile application to allow remote participation in and live interaction with the forum activities.
The forum organisers took an array of measures to ensure no COVID outbreak, including robot managed sterilisation of halls, entrances, and transport facilities; also regular free COVID testing for participants.
To commemorate this year’s edition of WYF, Egypt Post issued commemorative stamps that carry a QR code which opens giving information on the forum.
Post pandemic future
The WYF was held under the patronage of President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi who attended, along with his wife Intissar, the opening and closing ceremonies, and participated as well in a number of sessions and roundtable discussions.
President Sisi had launched the first WYF in 2017 on demand by Egypt’s 2017 National Youth Forum.
The aim was to engage young people of the world in an enriching setup, providing the opportunity to exchange views and make recommendations for decision- and policy- makers to attain a better world. WYF is open to young people who believe in their power of making changes and influencing their communities. It is regularly attended by high profile participants, including heads of states and governments, international young leaders, prominent international figures, and youth groups from around the world.
The forum runs through three tracks: peace, development and creativity. Each track involves topics explored through platforms created to express views, present ideas and exchange experiences.
The two days preceding the official inauguration of this year’s Forum saw preparatory workshops that discussed the impact of the COVID pandemic. The workshops included: UN Sustainable Development Goals post-pandemic, Africa’s post-pandemic future in light of 2063 Agenda, the future of technology and post-pandemic digital transformation, entrepreneurship and the future of the workforce in a post-COVID world, Education, and Generation Z’s perspective on the post-pandemic world.
Workshops also discussed water policies, environmental challenges, the growing global role of emerging companies; also the Egyptian nationwide initiative Hayah Karima (Decent Life), an Egyptian government sponsored mega project aiming to improve the quality of life for the most vulnerable sectors in the country. The initiative was launched on a recommendation by the 2019 National Youth Forum.
All hopes on the young
The opening ceremony of WYF 2022 was attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Jordan’s Crown Prince Al-Hussein bin Abdullah II.
President Sisi gave a speech in which he stressed that diversity and difference are the order of the universe and, as such, should be embraced without discrimination. Dialogue, he said, is the means to resolve differences. He stressed that humans cannot overcome the current crises without sincere intentions to end conflicts, manage differences and work jointly in the interest of humanity and peace.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a virtual speech in which he invited young people to suggest new ideas and come up with solutions to build the future of the world, lauding their unlimited innovation, and calling upon world leaders to listen to them. He hailed their ability to support one other and emerge from the COVID-19 crisis stronger, to build a better future.
For his part, President of the World Bank Group David Malpass affirmed through his virtual speech that young people can play an important role in eradicating poverty and promoting development.
Through video conference, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake pointed out the necessity of working together, young and old, on crises such as COVID-19 and climate change.
Topics discussed during the forum included: “COVID-19 pandemic: Warning for humanity and new hope”; “From Glasgow to Sharm al-Sheikh: Combating Climate Change”; “The future of technology and post-pandemic digital transformation”; “The international responsibility towards sustainable water security”; “Developmental initiatives confronting poverty”; “International responsibility in reconstruction of post-conflict areas”; “Entertainment industry, creativity and culture in a pandemic era”; Behavioural and psychological implications in post-pandemic world”; “Food security: a global change”; and “Towards a safe and inclusive world for women”.
Human rights … the truth
In a session that featured a model UN Human Rights Council (MUNHRC), 115 young people representing 47 member States of the International Human Rights Council of the United Nations participated in the simulation. Other participants represented observer countries on the Council, non-governmental organisations, and national councils, in addition to the President of the Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretariat. The youth talked of various national efforts and aspirations of the peoples they represent to recover from the coronavirus.
President Sisi attended this session, and keenly listened to the young people’s deliberations. Ambassador Moushira Khattab, President of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights also attended the MUNHRC session and gave a word in which she lauded the UNHRC simulation, and talked about the Egyptian State’s achievements on the way to attain the New Republic.
To a question about the figures released by international human rights organisations on human rights breaches in Egypt, President Sisi invited the youth to form an independent committee to themselves investigate how true these figures are. They could then issue a report on their findings, he said.
The President also talked about human rights in the broader sense, saying that peoples have rights, and that these rights have been breached by world powers who interfered in the affairs of these peoples. “Havoc has been wreaked on our region,” he said, “through outside interference. The only country that was able to emerge out of the disaster was Egypt. Look at the other countries in the region, and you’ll understand what ruin Egypt escaped. Millions of the peoples of these countries have been reduced to refugees.” He pointed out that Egypt hosts some 6 million refugees and secures for them the rights to sustenance, education, and work.
This year’s edition of WYF saw the Egyptian version of the United Nations’ initiative “Generation Unlimited” launched under the name “Shabab Balad”. According to UNICEF, Egypt is the first country in the region to launch a national version of the international platform.
“Generation Unlimited” was launched in 2018, to bring together world leaders, public, private and youth-led institutions to partner, finance and provide scalable solutions for young people, thus contributing to the operationalisation of the United Nations Strategy on Youth (2030) and progress in achieving the sustainable development goals. The initiative adopts the concept of “learning to earning” as a way to align youth capabilities with the needs of the labour market.
Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation, Rania al-Mashaat said during the launching session which was attended by several Cabinet ministers and international figures, that “Shabab Balad” endorsed Egypt’s vision 2030 which targets empowering young people through creating training, educational opportunities; providing them with the skills necessary for the labour market; and encouraging them to become entrepreneurs and active participants in society. Dr Mashaat called on the private sector, civil society, and youth to join hands in “Shabab Balad”.
In a recorded speech addressed to the WYF, Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director said that “Generation Unlimited” has an audacious goal – to have every young person in the world in school: learning or training for an appropriate job by 2030. UN Resident Coordinator in Egypt, Elena Panova pointed out that the platform aims to put young people at the heart of everything. “Egypt is a regional power that has strong partnerships with the rest of the world. We strongly believe that through the meaningful engagement of all stakeholders, “Shabab Balad” will have a tremendous impact on youth in Egypt and the entire region,” Ms Panova said.
Alongside the forum’s busy agenda, a number of activities and platforms that had been launched during previous WYF ran. These included Start-up Vein, WYF Labs, World Youth Theatre, Inspire.d, and Freedom.e.
Start-up Vein is a platform where entrepreneurs share their experiences, the challenges they faced and their achievements with young people. This year, Start-up Vein focused on the role of start-ups in economic post COVID repercussions. On her Facebook page, Ms Intissar al-Sisi expressed how impressed she was with the inspiring young models and those she met at Start-up Vein. “I saw in their ideas and dreams, the hope and future of Egypt,” she wrote.
WYF Labs provides workshops and sessions to youth who wish to become entrepreneurs, offering them the opportunity to meet current entrepreneurs and learn about ideas, investors and incubators. This year’s WYF Labs focused on the skills needed for entrepreneurship in a post-COVID world. Speakers highlighted the new concept of remote work and education technology.
Inspire.d, which is a platform for everyone to share inspirational stories of achievement, hope, dreams, survival, and even failure, this year hosted significant storytellers on stage to ask audiences to open their minds, absorb, inspire, and share their own stories.
Forum.e is a technology-oriented event that gathers all young tech-enthusiasts to present a number of applications and solutions for issues discussed in the forum.
The World Youth Theatre brings together promising young people from all over the world to present their talents and express their cultures through a variety of activities that include music, acting, stand-up comedy, painting and dancing. It was launched during the 2018 WYF, and has been a great success since then. This year, the World Youth Theatre was held under the motto “Arts and culture are part of development and are a human right”.
The inaugural performance of the forum’s theatre was attended by President and Mrs Sisi; it showed the play “We were one” directed by the Egyptian director Khaled Galal and featuring artists from Egypt, USA, Sweden, Russia, Brazil, Tunisia, Morocco, Malawi, Tajikistan, Portugal, Serbia, Peru, Indonesia, and Yemen. The play depicted the state of humanity where successive events and wars have distorted the peace-loving human instinct, and in the face of the “unknown” the actors and makers of the play ask the question: “Will humanity triumph over global differences and conflicts?”
Audiences were enthralled by this year’s varied performances of the World Youth Theatre; they said the lively performances made them laugh and sometimes brought them to tears. Mrs Sisi expressed her amazement at the remarkable shows; “Gifted young people from around the world came together at Sharm al-Sheikh to convey the message saying that what brings humanity together is more than what divides it, and that arts can play a key role in establishing the foundations of coexistence,” Mrs Sisi wrote on Facebook.
The forum, concluded with a list of ambitious resolutions. These included recommendations to establish a business council for African ventures with the participation of young entrepreneurs and businessmen to provide funding opportunities for innovations; urge the World Health Organisation to adopt an initiative on the mutual recognition of COVID vaccination certificates; urge the involvement of young people in climate change issues and promoting awareness on climate goals at regional and international levels; and localise water desalination technologies in countries that suffer from water scarcity.
The closing session, which was attended by President Sisi and the First Lady, saw the President hand graduation certificates to the National Training Academy (NTA) graduates who attended a youth leadership programme.
NTA was created by a presidential decree in August 2017 to become a scientific institution to train youth for public service, as well as to improve their abilities and skills and produce cadres capable of holding leading posts in State sectors. NTA reports directly to the presidency and enjoys the sponsorship and support of President Sisi; it has been involved in the organisation of the World Youth Forum since its inception. Rascha Ragheb, NTA Executive Director, thanked President Sisi for his unalloyed confidence in Egypt’s young people, pointing out that the forum sends a strong message to the entire world that there is in Egypt real political will to invest in human resources.
During the closing session, the President received the five-year accreditation certificate for NTA from the US Chief innovation officer at the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training Res Helfer. Also a documentary about the activities of the NTA was screened, asserting that Egypt’s New Republic pays great attention to youth.
Finally, based on this edition’s recommendations, President Sisi announced a number of decisions during the closing session. These included declaring the year 2022 a Year of Civil Society; establishing a global incubator for entrepreneurs, start-ups and small industries; forming groups comprising youth from Egypt and the world to participate immediately in preparation measures for the 27th Climate Summit (COP27); and developing a comprehensive vision with development partners to achieve an African extension of developmental initiatives realised in Egypt.
15 January 2022