In Utrecht, The Netherlands, the student organisation Utrecht University Model United Nations (UUMUN) on 5 an 6 April organised the ‘Road to Cooperation’: a yearly event for students in their last year of high school. The aim of the Race to Cooperation is have young students address international conflicts. This year, 70 students (aged 17 and 18) from the area participated in a number of debates and presentations focused on finding solutions for a more stable Egypt, under the banner “Egypt: the road to democracy”.
The concept of the event consists of two parts. On the first day, Dutch journalist Rena Netjes, Willem van der Put and Bram Jansen gave workshops on the topics of Egypt, Afghanistan and South Sudan. On the second day the students participated in a simulation of the United Nations.
The following articles are written by groups of students who participated in the Road to Cooperation. These articles present the view of Dutch students, sharing their thoughts on a solution towards a more stable Egypt. These articles were created during a workshop given by Rena Netjes.
Two worlds, one goal
How would the Netherlands describe Egypt?
The Netherlands has had good economical, political and cultural relations with Egypt for a long time. For instance, The Netherlands supported Egypt with funding and knowledge after Mubarak was ousted in 2011. This support was focused on projects dealing with human rights, democracy, and the transition to a constitutional state. The Dutch government also encourages Dutch companies to invest in Egypt by providing subsidies. This way, the Dutch government hopes to contribute to economic growth in Egypt and hence increase jobs.
However, there are issues the west is concerned about, which are the root cause of the instability of Egypt. First, the concept of ‘Trias Politica’ is not implemented. Instead, the army currently rules Egypt. Second, courts are often inconsistent in their application of the law and often impose the death penalty. Third, the army suppresses demonstrations. Lastly, a lot of journalists have been put in prison. The army claims they are not arrested for criticising the army, but on other grounds. Some have been accused of terrorism.
How does the Egyptian media describe the west?
After former president Mohamed Morsi was ousted 3 July, the army intervened in the country’s media when it shut down a number of Islamist TV channels.
The media shows a misleading one-sided picture of the west, thereby influencing the opinions of Egyptians. The media emphasises that the United States and Europe want to divide the Middle-East amongst each other. They also claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is paying money to western media so they will publish stories that paint Egypt and the army in a bad light. They have even claimed that the United States wants to antagonise Sisi. The rationale behind all of this might be to make the Egyptian public think more positively about the regime. This way, civilians will not demonstrate anymore and the rule of the army will be guaranteed.
However, the Egyptian media is right in one respect: the west is often inconsistent in its intervention policy. Thus, both parties are not completely neutral in their operations. Own interests are often more important than general interests of the world.
Everybody knows democracy is the solution for the problems in Egypt. However, how are we going to reach that goal? What is needed is stability. Many Egyptians want stability so badly that they would embrace a leader similar to Mubarak – an iron-strong leader who gets rid of all the opposition in order to bring stability.
Some Egyptians do not want the west to help. The solution is therefore to restore the mutual trust between the west and Egypt, making working together easier. This way, tourism and foreign investments will increase again. This is important for two reasons. First, the Egyptian economy will grow. Second, international aid organisations will be able to start projects concerning nourishment, education and jurisdiction in Egypt.
In conclusion, the solution for a better living environment in Egypt is the restoration of mutual trust between Egypt and the west. After that, conditions in Egypt can be improved, and eventually Egypt will become a democracy.
The Egyptian road to democracy
Currently chaos, disorder, and civil protests are dominating Egypt; public opposition is standing up against the regime. So far, the situation has caused many victims and a collective cry for stability echoes among the Egyptian population. The one big question that remains is: “How will we establish such stability?”
Western countries have been concerned with the issue, and international bodies, such as the United Nations, have deliberated the matter. The international community has tried to approach the issue from multiple angles, and numerous recommendations have followed to solve the current anarchy. The common goal, and top priority, is to establish a more prosperous Egypt, and a better state of wellbeing for the Egyptian population.
Tourism has seen severe decreases recently, and foreign investors are withdrawing, which in turn impoverishes the population. When Mubarak was still in power, the degree of poverty was not as severe as it is now, so the concerns and frustrations of Egyptians are even more understandable. Stability in different contexts is of serious importance, and this can primarily be stimulated by the establishment of a healthy economy.
In Egypt, income distribution is heavily skewed towards the rich and detrimental to a large proportion of the population, as they live on, or below the poverty line. The establishment of a financially healthy middle class is important for greater stability in Egypt; this could be realised by strengthening income distribution through renewed welfare systems for the entire population.
The majority of the poor population is unable to sustain itself, nor is the government able to guarantee fundamental rights, such as primary education for all. If incomes were to be leveled out evenly, the poor would have fair opportunities to live a better life.
This way we will be able to tackle crucial problems of inequality, provision of education and food shortages.
Suez Canal revenues
Ships intending to sail through the well-known channel are expected to contribute to the finances of the Egyptian army. This nautical business is one of the largest sources of income for the country, but the regulations concerning this business also see intrinsic problems.
The government does not have any oversight into how much the army receives from this business, and consequently the government is unable to control the army, nor the revenues made in this sector. If there were to be more transparency when it comes to revenues in each specific sector, the government would be able to gain more power over the military leadership and reduce corruption.
Stability is currently the most important objective for all Egyptians, as it is important to anyone to be able to support and maintain a family. We believe that this is best reachable through the establishment of a democracy, but in fact, there are plenty of other ways to reach a stable form of government. Important values to achieve include the right to represent and argue one’s own viewpoints, the right to vote, the right to participate in the political system, freedom of speech, freedom of press and political rights, such as the possibility to start new political parties.
Moreover, we believe that it is of utmost importance that executive powers enforce these rights; citizens must be able to set up their own political parties in order to reach consensus, stability, and satisfaction among the people; this way each voice can be heard in society. What we have heard is that these rights are in the very basis of the Egyptian constitution, but the compliance to these rights leaves much to be desired. We believe that when these rights are effectively respected and guaranteed, stability will naturally follow.
Freedom of speech in Egypt
Let’s take a realistic look at the current state of Western media in Egypt: communication with Egyptians is difficult given the picture of the west painted in state media.
When stability has improved through other means, discussed in the rest of the article, we believe that people in Egypt will be more open to dialogue with the west.
Improved relations with the west via media communication will help tourism, providing jobs and greater well-being in the country. This will, in the long run, bring even greater stability and a better Egypt.
As Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.” Not only does education provide much-needed self-esteem, it also gives a solid base to build on. What is a better start for a solid society than a solid foundation? For exactly this reason, we have researched the current educational system in Egypt and the possible ways in which the improvement of this system would lead to a more solid society.
After the revolution in 1952, Egypt’s educational system changed dramatically. One of the most drastic changes appears to be new legislation regarding compulsory education for underage children. When the revolution in 1952 struck the country, children between 6 and 12 years old were suddenly obliged to go to school. This appears to be progress, but in reality, there were new challenges. Unfortunately, dropout rates have been high, creating an enormous amount of illiterate youths.
In rural areas, problems with education have been most prevalent. Here, many are living in poverty and can use all the help they can get. This has often resulted in a situation of child labour; children are obliged to help on the land instead of sitting in a classroom. An additional problem is the fact that there are a rising number of rural schools being built while these often do not meet quality standards. Most teachers here are not sufficiently qualified, which leads to the conclusion that education often does not satisfy the requirements.
From a western perspective, problems can be summarised by means of a few pillars. Firstly, the amount of children currently receiving education is far too few. The main reason for this is because Egypt lacks the necessary system of compulsory schooling and there is no one actually checking whether children meet their educational requirements. This may lead to the conclusion that there is no solution for current political unrest, because these are the children who will have to lead Egypt onto a better course of action in the future.
Bearing in mind the current situation and Egyptian culture as a whole, we deem the following to be a good start for a better educational system in Egypt. For children aged 6 to 16, education should be obligatory. We think a period of 10 years of education is a sufficient amount to create a stable base on which children can build, leading to a generation that is even more stable. We are also convinced that teachers should be sufficiently qualified before being able to teach to children, simply because the quality of the educational system is hugely dependant on these teachers themselves.
Therefore, a major challenge would be to ensure that teachers are sufficiently qualified; this is an essential requirement for better education. This would be possible after better wages, better working conditions and good school materials are provided. It is also possible to send qualified teachers from other countries to Egypt. This is already happening, but mainly in private schools, something we would like to see extended to public schools as well. We hope this will lead to a more diverse knowledge-exchange and varied education alike.
Doing this will help the system be more compatible with Egyptian society as it is right now. This will help the new generation think for themselves and be better able to look at situations from different perspectives. Of course, this in no way means we think there should be a more pro-western focus in Egypt.
We would also like to see a system of education that is more compatible with the opinions of the younger generation, in which there is an emphasis on creating a more stable society for the future. Apart from this, the whole of Egypt should be able to take part in national politics in a more democratic way. When this happens, people will be able to be part of decisions concerning their children’s educational system. We believe this is not a short-term solution, but something that can be reached in the long-term.
One of the current problems regarding this issue is the fact that Egyptian authorities distrust the Western world. It is absolutely vital for improvement of the situation as it is right now, that we set up an impartial organisation responsible for overseeing the interests of the Egyptian people. The United Nations would be a perfect candidate. This organisation would be able to offer help in unstable situations, which is the current case in Egypt.
When younger generations aim to be more schooled and self-thinking civilians, we could make sure that these people will be able and willing to handle pressing issues in Egypt in the future. The problem will be handled at its core this way.
From this perspective, the UN has the power and financial means to make a big difference, especially because it is an independent and impartial organisation, particularly focused on the well being of all people. By providing subsidies, the UN would be able to promote a better educational system. This pillar is also part of the Millennium Goals, which leads to the conclusion that the UN values Global Citizenship tremendously. Here lies the key solution.